Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ernest & Celestine

Year 9, Day 190 - 7/9/17 - Movie #2,684

BEFORE: Back to Netflix again tonight for this one, with the voice of Nick Offerman carrying over again from "My Life As a Zucchini".  (Two other actors carry over also, but they're listed under "various voices") Maybe it's a good thing that I just discovered this film on Netflix, because if I had looked at the cast list, I would have tried to work this in to the Forrest Whitaker chain last month, and that would have screwed everything up.
This film was also nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but from 2012.  So somehow I let this one slip by me, it just hasn't been a high priority for me.  And I'm back on the topic of different animals trying to live together, too.  Oh, and there's apparently also both a French and English version of this film - I'll make sure to watch the English version of this one today.

THE PLOT: The story of an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest, and a young mouse named Celestine.

AFTER: Yeah, in a certain way this seems like a stripped-down version of "Zootopia", with just two different animals trying to live together in the same city.  (Yes, I'm aware that this film pre-dated "Zootopia" by four years, and that it's based on a series of children's books that's been around for years.).

The bears live above ground in a very human-like city, wearing clothing like people, driving cars, etc. and the mice live underground in the sewers, but come up to act as sort of "tooth fairies" for the bears, particularly interested in the teeth of young bears, so that the mouse dentist can use them as replacements for mice that have lost or worn down their own teeth.  Umm, that's a lot to take in, I think.  Celestine the mouse lives in a sort of orphanage (parents must have been eaten by bears, or caught in a mousetrap or something) under the charge of the Grey One, who tells terrible stories about the vicious bears, while Celestine draws images of bears and mice living happily together.

On a trip to collect teeth, because that's what mice do, Celestine is almost caught by a bear couple, and ends up sleeping in a trash can, where the hungry street-performer bear Ernest finds her and tries to eat her.  She instead shows him how to break into a candy store's basement where he can eat his fill.  However, he's caught and arrested, and the enterprising Celestine frees him from the paddy wagon if he will help her steal her whole quota of teeth from the dentist.  And I'm not sure, but I think the dentist is a woman married to the candy store owner, and they're the same couple who almost caught Celestine near the start of the film.  Things were a bit unclear to me.

This leads to the pair stealing a van (from the candy store owner, of course) and hiding out in Ernest's cabin in the woods, where they spend the winter together and bond further.  It's nice that an orphaned mouse finds a home with the bear, but it's another strange message to send the kids that's it's OK to steal in order to get ahead, and then when you are in danger of getting caught, it's OK to steal again to run away.  But I think there are larger narrative problems that result when you try to take an entire series of adventures from a set of children's books and try to distill them down into one coherent narrative.  This seems similar to the problem of adapting "The Jungle Book", which was a collection of short stories that needed to be tweaked and shuffled around to fit everything into one longer tale.

The depiction of the two parallel trials was interesting, though, with the bear on trial in mouse court and the mouse on trial in the bear court.  The courthouse catches on fire, which is a bit of deus ex machina, and the nature of our heroes is revealed when each saves the day in court.  However, this is another odd message to send to the kids - hey, if you're in trouble with the law, just save the judge from a fire, then everything will be OK.  Yeah, that's not how the justice system works.

I'm just not sure that the overarching message (mice don't have to be dentists, and bears don't need to be judges) - even though it's similar to the one in "Zootopia", about how bunnies don't need to grow up to be carrot farmers - is worth the expense of seeing the main characters here constantly subvert the due process of the law.  And then they pull that old trick at the end - "Hey, let's make a children's book about how we met!".  At least they didn't decide to make a movie about it.

Also starring the voices of Forest Whitaker (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Mackenzie Foy (last seen in "Interstellar"), Lauren Bacall (last seen in "Harper"), Paul Giamatti (last seen in "Love & Mercy"), William H. Macy (last seen in "Bobby"), Megan Mullally (last seen in "Once Bitten"), Jeffrey Wright (last seen in "The Invasion"), Vincent Grass.

RATING: 5 out of 10 marshmallows

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