The first time I had heard of Ernest & Celestine was back when I was preparing to dominate my staff Oscar pool for the third year in a row. Nominated for Best Animated feature, it stood little chance against the juggernaut that is Walt Disney’s Frozen, but still, this beautifully animated story caught my eye. Now I’m glad to say that thanks to the home video release, I’ve watched and highly enjoyed it.
Based on a series of children’s books of the same name from Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent (the nom de plume of Monique Martin), Ernest & Celestine tells the a touching story of a bear and a mouse. Mice live below ground, and bears live above ground, with the two societies rarely interacting and mostly living in fear of each other. Baby mice are told fairy tales of the “big bad bear” who will eat them. Baby bears are told of the fairy mouse who will take theith teeth. The mice do indeed take the bears’ teeth, when the parents first act as tooth fairy, the mice come by and take the tooth again. Bear teeth are the strongest teeth and mouse society has been built by their use of their own teeth, as they gnaw and chew the landscape away to fashion their world. Celestine is one such dentistry mouse who is sent to the surface to steal teeth that are used to replace damaged mouse molars. One evening she is caught by a bear family and trapped until the next morning when Ernest, a kindly, down on his luck bear frees her from her garbage can prison. Celestine then helps Ernest find some food by showing him the basement of a candy store, coincidentally owned by the same bear who trapped her. Celestine and Ernest begin a friendship and help each other until Ernest is found in the mouse city. The two escape the pursuing police from both societies and hide in Ernest’s house in the woods away from the bear town. Eventually each are caught by the opposite police and put on separate trials; trials that will open the eyes of both mouse and bear societies.
As I said, this was a nice, simple story that touched on prejudice, xenophobia and friendship with very light fingers. I was very nice to see an animated film that wasn’t overly CGI (I think I read that it was entirely hand drawn), and I really loved the flowing watercolour look of the film. Originally Ernest & Celestine was voiced in French but had so much success at various film festivals, it was converted into English with stars Forest Whitaker taking over for Lambert Wilson as Ernest; Mackenzie Foy voiceing Celestine for Pauline Brunner. Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Lauren Bacall rounded out the English voice cast.
Bottom Line: lovely film, and very nice to hear Lauren Bacall one last time, and this picture just kind of summed up the entire film.
John Dies at the End is a horror-comedy from director Don Coscarelli of Bubba Ho-Tep fame based on the book by David Wong. A friend of mine had read the book and really liked it. When the movie was announced he was equally excited, and now that it is available on DVD, I decided to give it a watch, without having read the book. Usually I like to read the book before I watch a screen adaptation. I’ve read the first Game of Thrones book, but haven’t seen the show yet as I have at least three books to go. I read all the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books before viewing their films, and most recently the Life of Pi. Books and movies are funny things. If you have read the book I suppose you are in one of two camps; you will either be anxious to see the adaptation and the pages brought to life or you will not want to see someone else’s version of what you’ve already constructed in your own mind. Conversely, if you haven’t read the book the film will act in the same way; it may make you want to read the book to gain more detail, or it may put you off the book completely. After viewing John Dies at the End, I’m not sure if I’m interested in reading the book or not.
The movie was okay, but wasn’t great. It definitely reeked of “budget film”, and I have no real problem with that; my concerns come from the pacing and the layout of the story. It all seemed a little disjointed. There was an interesting scene at the beginning of the film regarding an axe. Dave (played by Chase Williamson); who is the titular John’s (played by Rob Mayes) best friend, kills a zombie with an axe and cuts off the head. Doing so, the axe handle needs to be replaced. After killing something else with the new axe handle, the axe head now needs to be replaced. Dave asks us if this is the same axe that killed the first creature, and so does the resurrected corpse. This scene was quite interesting, but didn’t seem to affect anything else or pop up again in the movie. It actually reminded me of the introductory scene from Rubber. The movie then follows Dave telling a story to a reporter (Paul Giamatti) about how he and John came in contact with a drug called Soy Sauce, that bridges the gaps between realities, universes and time itself for the user. Now tasked with fighting off evil creatures from the drug’s home dimension, Dave and John gruesomely carry on, even though John dies, and not exactly at the end. But before all this happens, we see John and Dave team up with a stage magician/exorcist/infomercial psychic named Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown, now famed for his cartoon voiceover work, but I prefer to remember him as the Kurgan from Highlander) to stop possessed meat from killing them. Again, the film seemed a little disjointed, the flow was off.
The whole film seemed kind of rushed. As I said I am not familiar with the source material, so I am assuming that a lot of things got left out, but what remained really did seem to bounce around a lot. That may have been the problem actually, the film may have tried to do too much and just ran out of steam. We opened with the axe scene, jump to a scene apparently in the present, back to the past telling the “origin” story, back to the present with everything seemingly resolved. There was so much detail and cleverness in the writing of the buildup that wasn’t really there for the ending. I know I gave the film 3 stars, but 2.75/5 would be more accurate, unfortunately I don’t have a graphic for that, so 3/5 it is. Will John Dies at the End become a cult classic? That is hard to say. It had a strong cast, and quite good acting; effects that were slightly on the shy side of average; an original enough story with some rather abstract ideas mixed with some minor horror and gore; and I suppose it has a built in fan base from the book. These are all the ingredients, so I suppose the only way to tell is to see how the fans and other audiences react.