a theatre, film & pop culture review
The one film that absolutely charmed me is the French-language Ernest & Celestine which I, thankfully (and most sneakily), saw with subtitles and original cast intact. (The rest of you will get Forest Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, Lauren Bacall (!), William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman and Jeffrey Wright in English.) This adorable tale of interspecies friendship follows orphaned mouse Celestine, a rebellious artist and reluctant future dentist, as she befriends the blustering Ernest, a helpless musician bear. She aids him in pilfering candy (he’s starving) and in exchange, he helps her swipe a bunch of bear teeth (priceless in the underground mice world, where rodent teeth are ever-fragile). Inspired by Belgium writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s children’s books of the same name, this 2D adaptation remains largely faithful to the original drawings with the sweet simplicity of its watercolored pencil sketchings. But this kid-friendly flick doesn’t play down to its audience (unlike a couple other nominees); instead, the cleverly intercut climax depicts a mice/bears prejudice and a smart blurring of Ernest and Celestine’s relationship (are these two friends or something more?), which results in a refreshing ambiguity.
The Wind Rises, which Hayao Miyazaki has (probably falsely) declared to be his last work, tells the fictional account of Jiro, an airplane engineer known for designing the warplanes used by Japan in WWII, as he goes from project to project, and falls in love with a sweet TB patient, Nahoko. It’s an interestingly sympathetic treatment of the creator of machinery that was used in the Pearl Harbor attack (apparently the film has gotten some backlash in Japan for being unpatriotic), but the pacing is snail-like and the modest Jiro is dull (and dully dubbed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, though there is some wonderful voice work by Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, and a crazy-town Werner Herzog). But Joe Hisaishi provides a haunting score and the fanciful animation awes in a few surprising sequences, such as a depiction of the the Great Japan Earthquake of 1923, when the ground swells up and down in rolling waves across the city. Miyazaki already has one Oscar, though, and while Disney distributed its U.S. release, the Mouse House has invested much more in another nominee.
We all know the massively popular Frozen will win this one by a landslide. Disney has finally (reluctantly) embraced feminism (of a limited kind, of course — girl’s gotta have her man, am I right?) and given way to a bevy of big-eyed beauties who confidently kick ass while belting catchy female-empowerment ballads with lots of “you go girl!” chutzpah. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s score, aiming for that Menken-Ashman sweet spot, has its charms; the Scandinavian fairytale land is eye-poppingly crystalized with dripping icicles and sparkling snowflakes; and the token sidekick, a hilariously dopey snowman named Olaf, doesn’t understand why he can’t sunbathe. All the parts are there; what’s missing is the most intangible, but vital quality: Disney magic. Nevertheless, the masses have approved, Broadway has set its sights on a stage adaptation, and Frozen will go home the winner.
As for those other two: Despicable Me 2 and The Croods are the typical soulless animated features that the U.S. churns out ad nauseum to mindlessly entertain the kiddies while mom and dad get a moment’s respite (or are forced to endure for two hours in the theater, god bless them). The Croods radiates the most mind-numbingly infantile humor, while Despicable Me 2 at least cracks a smile or two thanks to those mischievous minions. These films are the epitome of throwaway nominees.