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Directors: Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
Release Date:
May 23, 2012
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

In a time in which American studio animation has discarded traditional animation practically altogether, only to embrace a rather generic post-Disney 3D computer style (Laika being the notable exception), one must look elsewhere for animation films in a more unique visual style.

In the 21st century France, especially, has emerged as a producer of animation films with an interesting visual style, using traditional means, with films as different as ‘Les Triplettes de Belleville’ (2003), ‘Persepolis’ (2007), ‘Une vie de chat’ (2010) and ‘Le tableau’ (2011) emerging from that country.

One of such films is ‘Ernest & Célestine’, which immediately draws attention with its gentle, children book-like watercolor style. Produced not only in France, but also in Belgium and Luxembourg, ‘Ernest & Célestine’ is based on a children book series by Belgian author Gabrielle Vincent (1928-2000). Vincent’s Ernest & Célestine stories were modest affairs, with the bear and mouse duo singing, picnicking, going to the circus, or celebrating Christmas. But ‘Ernest & Célestine’ the movie is a very different affair, telling a rather Romeo and Juliet-like story of the two heroes bridging two worlds that live in fear of each other. It remains a bit mystifying why producer Didier Brunner didn’t opt for an intimate story, fitting the source material. As such ‘Ernest & Célestine’ could have been a delightfully little film like ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988).

Instead, Brunner asked French writer Daniel Pennac for a scenario. Now, Pennac is best known for his social satire. I’ve read his novel ‘The Scapegoat’ from 1985 and his graphic novel ‘La débauche’ (with Jacques Tardi, 2000) and both combine sharp social criticism with great humor. Yet, Pennac’s urban settings seem miles away from Vincent’s nostalgic worlds, and, indeed, the film doesn’t really bridge those.

In fact, the film’s story is its weakest link, as the film doesn’t entirely succeed in both setting this world and introducing both characters before the main story starts. Pennac makes it over-complicated with little mice gathering the teeth from the bear children, an invention completely superfluous to the main plot. Moreover, as soon as Ernest and Célestine meet each other, the latter suddenly turns into a brave, smart-alecky, rather dominating, and talkative character, something we would never have guessed from the earlier scenes.

It doesn’t help that initially neither she nor Ernest come off as very likable. Ernest, for example is introduced as lazy and well-known to the police, and he absolutely sees no problem in breaking in into somebody else’s cellar. Also, his treatment of Célestine is rude, while Célestine comes over as pushy, popping up rather uninvited in Ernest’s home. Only when the two rescue each other from nightmares, they grow towards each other. But this occurs apparently overnight, and the change isn’t entirely convincing.

Worse, when the story finally comes to the subject of Vincent’s books, with scenes of Ernest & Célestine living together, and having fun together, the film enters still water. Likewise, the finale feels forced and fails to convince. Directors Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar (the latter two of ‘A Town Called Panic’ fame) should have known better.

Nevertheless, the film’s message that friendship and understanding can bridge two very different worlds and cultures, is a welcome one, and as said in the intro, ‘Ernest & Célestine’ employs a very pleasant visual style. All background art is painted in watercolors, and the digital coloring of the characters successfully mimics the watercolor style. Moreover, the linework is open, and the edges of the backgrounds dissolve into nothingness, emphasizing the story book feel.

Strikingly, the animation, supervised by Patrick Lambert and done by Les Armateurs and Blue Spirit in France and Studio 352 in Luxembourg, comes across as rather Japanese. Several moves and facial expressions are copied directly from Japanese tropes and are at odds with the European visual style. Indeed, the film makers admit being highly influenced by Ghibli, but unfortunately, story-wise, ‘Ernest & Célestine’ doesn’t reach the Japanese studio’s great heights. This is a pity, for now ‘Ernest & Célestine’ remains a film which is extremely pleasant to look at, but which is also highly frustrating to watch, with its rambling plot, and plodding pace.

Watch the US trailer for ‘Ernest & Célestine’ and tell me what you think:

‘Ernest & Célestine’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Władysław Nehrebecki
Release Date: 1958
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Myszka i kotek © Studio Filmów Rysunkowych‘Myszka i kotek’ is a very beautiful example of the cartoon modern style of the 1950s.

The film is a very playful tale of a real mouse chased by a line drawing kitten, which has jumped from a postcard. During the chase the cat repeatedly dissolves into a line only, and the animators play with the fact that the animal is outline only.

Both cat and mouse are pleasantly designed and very well animated, but it’s the gorgeous background art that draws the main attention. Every single panel is a beauty, depicting a nightly room in bold designs, verging on the abstract. The main background color is black, and the light blue outline of the kitten reads very well against the background art.

In short, ‘Myszka i kotek’ is a Polish little gem that deserves to be better known.

Watch ‘Myszka i kotek’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Myszka i kotek’ is available on the DVD set ‘Anthology of Polish Children’s Animation’

Directors: The Blackheart Gang
Release Date: March 2006
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Tale of How © The Blackheart Gang‘The Tale of How’ is a tale about birds trapped on an island by a large sea monster, but rescued by a mouse.

In this short the Blackheart Gang has used a mix of 2D and 3D computer techniques to make a film that is baroque in its complexity of images and intricate designs. The combination of weird surrealism and quasi-medieval ornamentation give the film its unique atmosphere. Unfortunately, the film’s story is less compelling than the images: the tale is sung in an all too uninteresting quasi-operatic style and very hard to follow, indeed.

Watch ‘The Tale of How’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Tale of How’ is available on the French DVD box set ‘Annecy – Le coffret du 50e anniversaire’

Director: Robert McKimson
Release Date: November 19, 1949
Stars: Sylvester, Hippety Hopper
Rating: ★★
Review:

Hippety Hopper © Warner Bros‘Hippety Hopper’ introduces the kangaroo of the same name, and its only function during its entire career: being mistaken for a mouse.

The cartoon starts gloomily enough, with a misty harbor scene, where a mouse is trying to commit suicide. He’s rescued by Hippety Hopper, however, and together they face the mouse’s terror: Sylvester the cat. The mouse makes Sylvester think he can grow tall, and lets Hippety Hopper beat him out of the house. The best comedy comes from a bulldog who keeps pushing Sylvester back inside.

Hippety Hopper himself is a silent character with a friendly smile and absolutely no personality. He’s easily the least funny recurring star in the Warner Brothers cartoon catalog before the 1960s. Even in this first cartoon his appearance is tiresome. Nevertheless, he would star in twelve other cartoons, lasting even till 1964. The mouse, on the other hand, would disappear after this cartoon. No wonder: he’s designed and animated rather uglily.

Watch ‘Hippety Hopper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Release Date: October 6, 1951
Stars: Tom & Jerry, Mammy Two-Shoes
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Nit Witty Kitty © MGMWhen Mammy hits Tom on his head with a broom, he looses his mind and thinks he’s a mouse. This to great annoyance of Jerry, because Tom eats all his cheese and wrecks his bed.

‘Nit Witty Kitty’ is a well-told cartoon, if a little bit slow and low on gags. Highlight of the cartoon are Jerry’s attempts to deliver Tom a “sharp blow on the head”.

Watch ‘Nit-witty Kitty’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 61
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Slicked-up Pup
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: Cat Napping

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date:
 February 3, 1951
Stars:
 Sylvester
Rating:
 ★★★★★
Review:

Canned Feud © Warner BrothersIn this cartoon Sylvester is the cat of a couple, who go on a holiday to California for two weeks, leaving Sylvester behind and locked indoors.

Sylvester runs into agony when he discovers this, until he finds a kitchen-cupboard full of tins of fish. Unfortunately, a mouse has the can opener. This leads to perfectly timed blackout gags, in which Sylvester makes several attempts to get the can opener. When he finally succeeds, he discovers that the particular cupboard is locked, while the mouse has the key.

Due to its cat-and-mouse-routine ‘Canned Feud’ has similarities to the Tom & Jerry cartoons, although it has a distinct Friz Freleng style. Unlike Jerry, the mouse is completely blank, and its motives remain unclear, but Freleng’s comedy works nonetheless. In fact, this film is better than most contemporary Tweety and Sylvester cartoons.

Watch ‘Canned Feud’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Art Davis
Release Date: October 21, 1949
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bye, Bye Bluebeard © Warner BrothersPorky tries to get rid of an annoying mouse.

When it’s announced on the radio that brutal killer Bluebeard is in town, the mouse disguises as the criminal. Porky quickly discovers his disguise however, but then the real killer shows up, too. Porky faints on the spot, and is tight to a rocket and put under a guillotine. It’s the little mouse who saves the day by blowing up the killer, and in the end he’s allowed to stay in Porky’s house.

This story is not presented very logically, nor is it very well executed. Therefore, one doesn’t care for the characters, nor is it very funny. Art Davis definitely could do better, but unfortunately this was his last cartoon at Warner Brothers. He would not direct again until 1962, when he directed the Daffy Duck short ‘Quackodile Tears’. In the meantime Davis returned to animating, joining Friz Freleng’s unit.

Watch ‘Bye, Bye Bluebeard’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.220.ro/desene-animate/10-Bye-Bye-Bluebeard/2Z9yE6bPnU/

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 129
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Dough for the Do-Do
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Boobs in the Woods

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: January 2, 1937
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Worm Turns © Walt DisneyIn the opening shot of ‘The Worm Turns’ we watch Mickey looking like an evil scientist, working on a potion that can give courage and power.

He tries it on a fly caught in a spiderweb, on a mouse (the two different designs of mice in this film, with one being twenty times larger, is quite confusing!) who is the victim of a cat, on the cat, who’s chased by Pluto, and on Pluto, who’s threatened by evil dog catcher Pete.

The animation of the opening sequence is quite stunning, but the whole short fails to get funny. Hanna and Barbera would revisit the same idea in the similar ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse‘ (1947) with much better results.

Watch ‘The Worm Turns’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 90
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Elephant
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Don Donald

Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: November 11, 1946
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rhapsody_Rabbit © Warner BrosA very deft Bugs Bunny plays Franz Liszt’s second Hungarian rhapsody on a piano. This classical piece was director Friz Freleng’s all-time favorite, and it appears in several of his films.

In ‘Rhapsody Rabbit’ it is played out full. The cartoon consists of spot gags and it has a small story about Bugs having problems with a mouse. This story element is not well-developed and dropped halfway the cartoon, only to return at the end.

The idea of a battle between the pianist and a mouse was perfected by Hanna & Barbera only five months later in their Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘The Cat Concerto‘, which has exactly the same subject, and which uses exactly the same music by Liszt. Unlike Freleng however, the duo swept the Oscar… There seems to be something fishy about this fact, which is analyzed in detail by Thad Komorowski in his excellent blogpost on the issue.

Compared to the latter cartoon, ‘Rhapsody Rabbit’ is less consistent, but more absurd. The gag in which the mouse makes Bugs play an infectious boogie-woogie may be the highlight of the film.

Watch ‘Rhapsody Rabbit’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.220.ro/desene-animate/Rhapsody-Rabbit/RnRu8v7HIK/

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 41
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: The Big Snooze
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Rabbit Transit

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