Ernest & Celestine (2012) PICK
The LEGO Movie (2014) PICK
Son of God (2014) PICK
In a year with precious little to offer family audiences, two of the best animated films to play on North-American screens this year are new on home video — one of which you haven’t heard of.
The one you have heard of is The LEGO Movie, the spring hit that caught many critics (including me) by surprise. From the makers of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, it boasts similar levels of goofy humor, freewheeling creative weirdness and visual novelty.
It’s not as heartfelt as Cloudy, but it packs some surprising twists. I expected The LEGO Movie to riff on everything from The Lord of the Rings to The Matrix. I didn’t expect the chosen hero to turn out to be more Frodo than Neo: that is, special not so much because he is special as because he isn’t, if you follow me.
With many family films pushing the envelope with language, this one treads lightly with the mildest phrases. There’s even an intriguing twist that pays off scattered references to "the Man Upstairs," resonating with J.R.R. Tolkien’s concept of "sub-creation." How many animated movies these days can you say that about?
Now for the one you haven’t heard of: Ernest & Celestine is an Oscar-nominated animated charmer.
Based on a children’s book series by Belgian writer-artist Gabrielle Vincent, the adorably anarchic film tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a clever, artistic young mouse named Celestine and a crusty but ingenuous bohemian bear named Ernest, voiced in the English dub by Forest Whitaker.
Animated in a sketchy, watercolor style reminiscent of the illustrations, the film creates a mouse culture underground and a bear culture above ground, each in fear of the other.
Also new on home video, Son of God is the feature adaptation of the Gospel material from the popular TV miniseries The Bible. With decent small-screen production values, it’s a fair Gospel movie, seldom either departing far from the text or illuminating it with historical or theological context or psychological insight.
It gets more right than it does wrong, though it also makes me appreciate other Jesus films, like The Miracle Maker, even more. For more perspective, see my Reel Faith review at DecentFilms.com.
Caveat Spectator: Ernest & Celestine: Mild animated menace and intimidating situations. Might be a bit much for sensitive youngsters. The LEGO Movie: Much highly stylized action violence; very mild language and brief mild rude humor. Fine family viewing. Son of God: Some violence, including Passion and crucifixion imagery and similar scenes of flogging, etc. Teens and up.