Review: Earnest & Celestine

Ernest & Celestine poster.jpgCelestine is an orphaned mouse, living underground with all the other mice and working for the dentistry as a tooth collector, taking teeth from bears so they can be used by mice for replacements. However she feels quite alone underground as she only has interests in drawing. Earnest is a bear, living above ground just outside of town as a failing entertainer. While he loves his music, he doesn’t get much respect or money from the other bears he interacts with, getting into trouble. One day, after both of them fail miserably at their jobs, their paths meet and they agree to help each other. However, their help only leads them into more trouble, and they end up hiding together. Through their talents, they develop a strong friendship, a friendship which neither society approves, and believe they should hate each other. What will become of their friendship, as well as their future, is up to their strength and how these two societies will judge each other. Continue reading

Old Review: Le Roi et l’Oiseau

Le Roi et L'OiseauIn this film, there is a kingdom of Tachycardia, ruled by the heartless king known as Charles V and III make VIII and VIII makes XVI. He is hated by many, especially the birds who he loves to hunt. In his Secret Apartment, he dreams about a beautiful Shepherdess from a painting, although she is in love with the Chimney Sweep. The paintings and a statue come alive as the Shepherdess and Chimney Sweep try to escape with the assistance of a Mocking Bird known only as “l’Oiseau”, the Charles XVI in a painting also comes alive to get rid of the original King, and take the Shepherdess to be his bride. Will the Shepherdess and Chimney Sweep be together in peace? Or will the King take her as his bride? Will l’Oiseau and his children succeed in his help, or will they meet the same poor fate as l’Oiseau’s wife, who was shot by the King years ago? This is the tale of La Bergère, Le Ramoneur, Le Roi et L’Oiseau.

After the collaborative effort of Le Petit Sodat, French animators Jean Prévert and Paul Grimault started production on their next film titled The Shepherdess and The Chimney Sweep in 1948, based on a novel by Hans Christian Andersen. Two years of hard work, with 62 minutes completed, and the two lost control with their film for financial reasons and the production studio Les Gémeaux was shut down. Against the  Prévert and Grimault’s wishes, the unfinished film was released to small crowds internationally in 1952, where it was  known in English Speaking countries under many names such as The Curious Adventures of Mr Wonderbird. In 1967, Paul Grimault was able to get back the ownership of his film and was able to get financing for the film 10 years later after doing works on short animated features and even two animated pilots. The completed film was finished in 1979 and was released one year later under the title, Le Roi et L’Oiseau. The film was dedicated to Prévert after his death in 1977.

The completed version is basically a mash up of scenes from the original 1952 unfinished version and new scenes made in the late 1970s, with some of the scenes being added, updated or completely changed. I need to give huge respect to Paul Grimault and his team of animators, since there are a few differences but the scenes blend in so well and the changes are barely noticeable, and that must have been difficult to pull off after having a 27 year gap. The animation is very smooth in execution, detailed and very realistic in design.

The art style is really impressive for 1950s standards and even really holds up for 1980s standards, although the character design is a bit off putting. The Shepherdess and Chimney Sweep, the King and his Guards, and the Birds all have completely different designs that don’t bare similarities. It seems odd to have this kind of inconsistency appear in what is a really well animated film.

The music is possibly one of the most well suited soundtracks I’ve seen in any film. The music on its own is beautiful and memorable and with the film it really sets the scene and mood for the experience. This is possibly because of the freedom that Wojciech Kilar had when composing the music, as Paul Grimault never told him what he wanted in the soundtrack, and never gave his opinion of Kilar’s work. This freedom allowed Kilar to make the music to how he thought it should be written and it is a spectacular array of pieces which should need to be heard.

The voice acting isn’t at all special, mainly because there isn’t that much dialogue. It isn’t a narrative piece so the only real dialogue comes from the narrator/main character l’Oiseau, portrayed by Jean Martin, and he does a brilliant job. He is very energetic, loud, jokingly insulting and arrogant, really fitting the character of a Mocking Bird. The king, portrayed by Pascal Mazzotti, is done just as well, portraying the cruel and villainous man who acts with authority. The other characters are mainly bland since most don’t express that much character or even emotion, but they do their best and it’s not laughably or terribly bad, but not that impressive.

The story is very nice in fairy tale fashion, all the characters have some likeability towards them and there is a good balance of both humour and drama. While it doesn’t have that much dialogue, there are very few scenes where conversation is needed, and even with the language barrier any viewer can easily tell what goes on in most scenes. The story itself is very touching and it definitely well put together.

The only real problem with the story is that it feels like two stories mashed together into one, and it was distracting for me when I saw through it. On one side, there are the birds and their battle against the cruel and heartless King Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI, and then there is the journey of the Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep. In a way they seem to intertwine to make one progressive and interesting story, but for some reason the film focuses on the King and Mocking Bird story more than the more interesting story of the Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep. In the second half of the film, the Chimney Sweep becomes so dull that he could’ve been removed completely to make room for l’Oiseau, the King and the Shepherdess. I also don’t really like the ending, it is an ending done right but it doesn’t explain or show any reason for what I saw in this entire film. There isn’t a whole lot of explaining in the film either, and I know the important storytelling rule “Show don’t tell” but when you don’t even show how or why something is happening, then I’m surprised no one got lost at some point in the plot.

This film is a masterpiece in every right, with impressive animation and a brilliant musical score it is worth watching, I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves animation and animated films as a whole.

Le Roi et L’Oiseau is unfortunately unavailable for Western Audiences, at least the completed 1980s version. The unfinished 1952 version was available from many low-budget distributors officially as “The King and the Mocking Bird” but also under many other names, and a version called “The Curious Adventures of Mr Wonderbird” which was narrated by Peter Ustinov is in Public Domain. The film has been digitally restored three times, twice by French Distributors in 2001 and 2003 and by Studio Ghibli in 2006. This unfortunately means that you have to look hard for a full version of the completed film with or without fan created subtitles but believe me it is worth looking for.

Review: Time Masters (Les Maitres Du Temps)

On the planet Perdide, Claude escapes a swarm of killer Hornets along with his five year old son Piel, after the swarm attacked their home and left Claude’s wife dead. A crash of their vehicle left Claude trapped and seriously injured, so he sends a distress call using a special microphone to his friend Jaffar, giving the microphone to Piel and telling him to run into the Dolongs, the mystical forest of the planet, to be protected from the Hornets. When Jaffar receives the message, he decided to detour from his original destination to travel to Perdide, picking up an old friend Silbad to help reach the planet. Already on board are Prince Matton and Princess Belle, deposed from their own planet and plan to live on a new planet, but despite Prince Matton’s refusal, they both offer to help rescue Piel, all of the people aboard communicating with Piel via the microphone. Although the Dolongs might protect Piel from the Hornets, there are other dangers so the crew have to hurry to rescue him before the worst comes.

In the late 1970s, French Director of animated advertisements and short films, Rene Laloux, was approached by French comic magazine Metal Hurlant after the success of his first feature length production, La Planette Sauvage (Fantastic Planet) for a new film project. As Laloux adapted a Stephen Wul novel for Fantastic Planet, he wanted to adapt another one. He originally wanted to do a set of ten animated TV films, all directed by him but under a different team of illustrators, and the adaptation of The Orphan of Perdide was going to be the first episode. After modifications to the original storyline and some name changes, production was on the way with French illustrator Moebius assigned for the design and artwork. Due to financial difficulties and struggle to sell the idea to TV Networks, it was decided that the episode idea was scrapped and the newly titled Les Maitres du Temps would be a feature length film, and because of the now limited budget, the animation would be finished off in Hungary. The film had good success in France, and was picked up by the BBC for English speaking audiences, although both Laloux and Moebius have never been satisfied with the final product.

For an early 1980s the animation is pretty good, being certainly comparable in quality to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and other early attempts at human animation outside of Disney. Moebius’ creativity definitely shines with the unique looking spaceships, environments and creatures, although the character designs feel dated, especially with the 1970s hair styles and 1960s clothing. The animation does lack in some areas, with scenes where literally nothing happens for minutes or where characters lack any movement, which was probably the effect of outsourcing to Hungary. The effects are also quite limited so there is a real show of how good the animation can be, although one highlight would be the early look at 3D like animation that appears at the end.

Initially I didn’t like the music, with its opening theme sounding like a heavy synth track from a generic sci-fi, it didn’t help that most of the music in this film features synthesisers. Eventually the music later on gets more memorable and great to listen to on its own, which is a shame because unlike other French films this is one of the few classics that doesn’t have an official soundtrack release, although that might be because there are very few tracks in total anyway. Most of the film has either synthesiser produced sound effects for creatures or the space systems, which could represent the void atmosphere of space but it also left out opportunity to add emotion or an atmosphere to the more intense scenes in the film.

Since I don’t really have that much experience in French voice acting, it’s difficult to give an opinion of it. However it is very easy to listen to and doesn’t have any points where it’s annoying or out of place. The main cast fit their roles well, with notable examples being the bumbling, uplifting and wise personality of Michel Elias as Silbad and the sly and defiant tone of Yves-Marie as Prince Matton. The English dub is hard to come by, being aired in the UK in the 1980 and 1991 with no video release, although bootleg copies and video files exist on the internet. For this reason I haven’t actually seen the English version beyond a few clips that have been uploaded on Youtube. However what I can say is that some of the voices are entertaining such as Silbad but overall the cast sound very rehearsed in their lines. It’s like they try too hard to make their cast like the original cast, instead of trying to put in their own spin and style that would fit an English audience. If you want to see the full film in English, it will be very hard so only do it for extreme curiosity.

The story is an interesting Sci-Fi film, though it’s structured hastily and ends up feeling incomplete. It has interesting characters and creatures that don’t have much development or screen-time, the Planet Perdide does have some colourful as well as interesting Geography, but not much is explored and some of the supposed dangers that Piel could face against don’t get shown that much. By the end of the film I was trying to think back on what was shown in this Universe and all I ended up finding was that there was a lot of stuff, but we only got an introduction before stuff happened and they leave. The most development we get in the film is Piel, Silbad, Jaffar and the planet Perdide, and even then there wasn’t much to understand. Although I rarely criticise films for not following the actual story, this is probably my first ever exception as the story might be more fleshed out and better developed, and the restrictions in development of the film reduced the amount they could adapt. The only real pain with this film is the title characters, the Time Masters, because having them be the title of the film and one of the first things mentioned in the film’s trailer, immediately indicates that this film will have time travel. Time Travel alone can make a Sci-Fi film as needlessly complicated, although this one makes the whole time travel part very straightforward as they are depicted as a group of elder creatures with the ability to transport objects the size as planets through time, which seems interesting to explore if it wasn’t for one minute issue. As the audience, we aren’t introduced to anything time travel related until the last 15 minutes of the movie, and the Time Masters themselves don’t appear until the last five minutes. What makes this more annoying is that the only reason they exist in this film is to explain this film’s twist, which is good but gets more predictable the closer they come to revealing it.

Les Maitres Du Temps is an artistic and visually appealing animated film, and it might be one of the best works of the late artist Moebius. Everything else on the other hand is good but is lacking, such as the soundtrack and casting performance. It’s definitely something to look at and good to beef up your DVD collection, but I wouldn’t imagine seeing it more than once in a while.

Les Maitres Du Temps is available from Eureka and Image Entertainment. An English dub that was produced and formally owned by BBC until they lost the rights in 2008, has never been officially released although copies are floating around if you know where to look. The original novel, titled “L’Orphelin de Perdide” (translated: The Orphan of Perdide), written by Stefan Wul, is available in French but does not have an English translation as far as I have looked.