Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pop stuff: Ernest and Celestine; Marvel's Star Wars

What I've been watching, reading, hearing, etc.



Ernest & Celestine is a sweet animated film, originally French, that's been dubbed in English featuring the voices of Mackenzie Foy and Forrest Whitaker in the lead roles: a free-spirited mouse and a shiftless but kindhearted bear.

The duo lives in a world populated only by bears and mice, in fact, and the two species don't get along. The bears are annoyed and scared of mice, and mice are likewise scared of bears and timid, staying in their own hidden, underground world.

The only time mice venture out is at night, when they steal the lost teeth of baby bears, which are then chopped up and used to replace the lost teeth of mice. A peculiar plot that seems, with its dentist mice, to owe something to William Steig's "Doctor De Soto."

Celestine is fascinated by the bears and their world and doesn't see why she should be frightened. Ernest, likewise, is a misfit. He'd rather stay in hibernation year round, but has to go out for food. He plays a variety of instruments, earning spare change as a one-man-band street musician.

When the two meet up and strike a friendship, neither of their species like the idea. In the end, though, friendship perseveres.

It's a gentle, funny story that children will like, and which will provide laughs for older kids and adults, too. Other featured voices include those of the late Lauren Bacall, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally.

Based on a series of Belgian children's books, there's a lovely, minimal watercolor look to the animation - like a picture book come to life.


Marvel's Star Wars. I grew up reading Marvel Comics' "Star Wars" series, which had a good long run from the late 1970s into the mid 1980s, when Dark Horse took over the license. Now, thanks to Disney owning everything - including both Marvel and the Star Wars franchise, the one-time House of Ideas is in the business of publishing stories of Jedis, wookies and droids, again.

A group of "Star Wars" universe books are planned, and has launched with this  flagship title, which focuses on the characters of the original trilogy, plus a pair of mini-series featuring Darth Vader and Princess Leia.

I've decided to give the main book a shot and, so far, it's not bad. John Aaron provides the script, which is set in a period shortly after the destruction of the Death Star, with art by the popular John Cassaday. Most comics these days move slowly, with plots unraveling gingerly over a series of issues, which ultimately get collected into a trade paperback and/or hardcover edition. That's the case here.

There's not much story to review, yet, but -- needless to say -- the rebels are fighting the good fight, Luke is a budding Jedi and Darth Vader is scary. Everything is shaping up to be a Star Wars adventure in the spirit of the original trilogy with artwork that replicates the panoramic vistas of those films' opening credits, space battles and otherworldly scenes. The movie-like opening of the first issue is especially well done.

Cassaday does an excellent job making Han look like Harrison Ford, Leia look like Carrie Fisher, etc. Likewise the spacecraft and other trappings are spot on. Cassaday is a great draftsman, though his action scenes are stiff, with a frozen-in-time look to them. That's the trade-off, I guess, made when the focus is on making the comic looks as photographic and film-like as possible.

We'll see how it all unfurls. It's tough telling stories between the cracks like this, always being wary of the overarching continuity created by the films and not messing with it. Marvel's original "Star Wars" series managed to tell some entertaining stories, particularly when it veered off in its own direction and tried things far different from anything depicted in the George Lucas films. That's also tough to do - being different, while also remaining recognizably "Star Wars." But it's possible with the right creators at the helm.

So far, the book is fun to look at and presses all the right nostalgic buttons. The next step is reaching beyond novelty.

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