The weather has turned cold and many of us are preparing for the long winter – filled with hot cups of tea, ill-fated attempts to wear 6 sweaters at once, and spending snowy evenings with your dear friend, Netflix.
And that’s where I come in. I’m a firm believer that Netflix time should be quality time. Until their algorithm improves, I’m hoping to spare you some time searching through their catalog and point you right towards the good stuff. So in this edition of Netflix Hidden Gems, I present you with April and the Extraordinary World.
French animation isn’t something that’s on a lot of radars in the US. With major houses like Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and Dreamworks (and even Ghibli for a bit) taking up the major real estate in theaters and awards shows, it can often seem surprising when a quiet French animated film starts to get even a little recognition. And when it gets nominated for an Oscar, chances are quite good that the film is going to be worth your time.
When I saw that the English dub of Ernest and Celestine was available on Netflix, it was a no-brainer. The only choice I needed to make was what type of tea to drink while watching.
Based on the book by Gabrielle Vincent and made on a shoestring budget, Ernest and Celestine tells the familiar story of two unlikely friends who manage to create a home and family together. It’s familiar, yes, but it’s also warm, sweet, and perfectly crafted.
Celestine is a young mouse living beneath the streets of a city inhabited by bears. Each night she sneaks into town to steal the teeth that young bears leave under their pillows for the Mouse Fairy. These teeth are then used by other mice to repair their own damaged and missing teeth. Sadly, she’s not great at her job and the dentist she works for threatens to fire her if she doesn’t improve. Desperate to make her quota, Celestine gets caught in the city above and finds herself in the paws of Ernest the bear.
First things first, the animation is gorgeous. With hand painted watercolor backgrounds and matching Flash animation, the soft tones result in a visual style that is extremely enjoyable to look at. Everything feels soft, cozy, and dreamy. It’s a children’s book come to life with mice scurrying across pages and bears quite literally lumbering around. Yes, it’s very cute, but it’s never cutesy or sickeningly sweet. The tone and the stylistic animation complement each other, and it works just as well during the darker moments as it does during the lighter ones.
Additionally, this movie is funny. It’s hard to explain why, but there is something about the slapstick and physicality of the characters that made me smile a lot. The timing and pace never feel heavy, so when a character trips or runs into a wall, the audience is given just enough time chuckle without feeling as though the movie is waiting for you to congratulate it on how clever and funny it is.
Lastly, the voice acting in this film is great. The cast is filled with distinguished, talented, and familiar names like Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, and Paul Giamatti. Celestine herself is voiced by Mackenzie Foy, who does a charming job of making Celestine both empathetic and brave.
So, go ahead and add Ernest and Celestine to your Netflix queue and maybe someone other than me will start gushing over it to her friends and online. Hey, it could happen!
Already seen Ernest and Celestine and looking to expand your horizons when it comes to animation? Specifically French films? Here are a few recommendations (many of which can be found on Netflix):
Really, I have Cartoon Sara to thank for this one, especially since she spent such a long time trying to convince me to give this show a chance. But here we are, a year and an awful lot of resistance later, and it turns out she was right. Mystery Inc. is pretty darn great. The strange thing about it is that I don’t even like Scooby Doo. I grew out of it very fast, and it was always something I watched as a kid only if there wasn’t anything else on. It was too formulaic, and when they tried to update it for the nostalgia crowd by making live action movies, I found myself even more confused by its popularity. Well except Matthew Lillard. He was born to play Shaggy. It kinda creeps me out. Good on you, Hollywood Casting Person!
There is a bit of a hidden agenda in my post for this week. And by “hidden,” I actually mean not hidden at all. My friends and I share a lot of similar fandoms, but there are times when I am DYING to talk about a show and then I am shocked to discover that none of my friends are watching it. It kills me because deep down in my heart I feel like they should love them too. No really, we have so much in commom, why not these too? So this week, I am using my blog time to not only try to convince the other ladies to check these shows out, but also try to find some like-minded blog readers who would like to chat about how awesome these shows are.
Phineas and Ferb
Hey you! Stop the eye rolling, I mean it! This show is hilarious and has an amazing sense of self awareness that can be hard to find in shows that are aimed for kids. Yes, it’s Disney. Yes, it is well established that I have been brain-washed by the Mouse. But hear me out.
Phineas and Ferb are two brothers who happen to be super geniuses. Each episode, they come up with some sort of crazy project to do that day and the hijinks begin. So far they have invented the best ice cream in the world by sending cows into space, turned their entire downtown into a giant board game, and even had a special where they team up with the Avengers. They have a pet platypus who is a secret agent assigned to fighting the worst evil villain in the world. Oh, and they have an older sister who spends way too much time chasing them down in hopes of ratting them out to their mother.
Where this shows really shines is that you can tell it has been created and written by people who spend a lot of time thinking of ways to reference things that both the children and the parents will enjoy. In fact, there are times that I even suspect that many of the references are going right over the kids’ heads. This feels especially true when things happen like the kids finding out that their mother was an 80s pop icon known as Lydana (whose song strongly states that she is a girl who wants to have fun, not unlike a certain other 80s Pop icon we know).
The continuity is great, the characters call themselves out on their various traits and taglines, and every episode features a song! Ok, I realize that the song might not be a selling point for everyone, but seriously, if you can stand the cute, the show might really be worth your time. And really, any series that will take the time to write a song about having squirrels in your pants is a-ok with me.