Ernest & Celestine

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/03/14 11:46:22

"A thoroughly delightful picture for kids (and the rest of us)."
5 stars (Awesome)

You can't decide a whole lot about the quality of one movie from the others it references, but it still has to be considered a pretty good sign when that a poster for "A Town Called Panic" hangs on a kid's wall in "Ernest & Celestine". Though the same filmmakers worked on both, they are quite different types of animated feature both in style and their types of humor, equally excellent at making kids laugh and grown-ups smile.

Celestine is a little mouse girl more interested in drawing pictures that show mice and bears being friends than the things she's supposed to be doing; Ernest is a hungry bear who likes making music more than anything else. They meet while Celestine is scavenging in the bears' city as part of her internship, and while they help each other out, Ernest being spotted in the mice's tunnels gets them both in trouble, so that they eventually have to hide out.

The movie is taken from the bandes dessinées albums by Gabrielle Vincent, although there are lines in the movie that suggest that Daniel Pennac's script takes some liberties. It does, when you get down to it, present the kids with a rather mixed message - although friendship, bravery, and not being prejudiced are important, a little more attention to how stealing is wrong maybe wouldn't have hurt. Them again, it's not like Bugs Bunny ever had any particular qualms about taking carrots from anybody's garden (or would Jerry Mouse be a better example?). It's a pretty easy thing to overlook, though, as these characters may be roguish (especially Ernest), but they're seldom rude or disrespectful, which can carry a lot of weight with parents.

That doesn't make the film's world dull, though - far from it! The occasional focus on things like dentistry makes it one of the more enjoyably eccentric cartoon worlds to turn up in recent years, and there's a delightful rambunctiousness to the proceedings: Both mouse and bear kids yell and jump around in excitement without it getting annoying, and moments which could focus too much on destruction or danger wind up more playful without feeling like the filmmakers are softening what's going on into a too-peaceful sort of environment. They have fun with how these mostly-human-acting people are bears and mice without it ever becoming the whole joke.

I do love how directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner can take Celestine from walking around like a little girl to scampering like a mouse in the blink of an eye without it ever being jarring, though. They do a good job with the animation in general, especially since the style is very traditional (though computers are used to some extent or other). It's charmingly flat, without a whole lot of moving around in three-dimensional space even in chase scenes or elaborate shading to give the characters mass. The style lets the filmmakers be inventive and silly without being cumbersomely elaborate, occasionally doing sequences built around Celestine's love for drawing that wouldn't work if the world was too visually complex.

But most of all, the movie has the title characters, who are absolutely delightful. Celestine is smart, funny, and take-charge with Ernest without ever seeming close to being more adult than kid, while Ernest is a nifty blend of youthful dreamer with just a dash of developing curmudgeon, and they play of each other in ways that get laughs and smiles without being too banter-y. There is also a whole bunch of amusing side characters that carve out identities pretty quickly even if they wind up being "orphan mouse #5" in practice. This is, it should be noted, based upon seeing it with the original French voice cast of Lambert Wilson as Ernest and Pualine Brunner as Celestine, although the English-language group, including Forest Whitaker and Mackenzie Foy as the title characters, looks pretty good.

Most theaters in the US are showing the dubbed version, although some are also showing it with subtitles (both will be on the video release), and it had a brief theatrical release last year to qualify it for its Oscar nomination. That nomination is well-deserved; though smaller in scale than most of the other nominees, it is delightful from beginning to end, a sweet little treat that folks should check out, even if they don't have kids, but especially if they do.

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