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Ernest & Celestine – Movie Review

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Ernest & Celestine – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

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With a very large percentage of animated features coming out of Hollywood and reaching thousands of screens being computer-animated, it’s easy to assume that hand-drawn animation has been left in the past. However, one look around the world shows that the art of bringing drawings alive is still very active and well. In addition to Japan and the imaginative worlds they create, France is another hot spot for talented hand-drawn animators to work their magic. Co-produced in Belgium, Ernest & Celestine has all of the charm of a storybook through both its imagery and the touching story it puts on screen. Whether one watches the film with its original French soundtrack or the English-dubbed version that will be released in a couple of months, this is a very appealing picture.

The first frame immediately sets up Celestine’s talent as an artist, which should appeal to anybody with a love for drawing and animation. She’s a headstrong, young mouse and it’s hard not to sympathise with her plight as she serves as a pint-sized tooth fairy for the bears living aboveground. This idea is one of the many creative story elements that litter through Ernest & Celestine. Screenwriter Daniel Pennac, adapting from Gabrielle Vincent’s book, presents an interesting divide between the bear and mouse societies with one being more afraid of the other, for their own reasons. This allows the film to delve into a subtle message about prejudice, though that is not at the forefront of the picture. The central conceit is rather about the relationship that develops between the two title characters, separate species who somehow find a bond through their outcast similarities.

It’s appropriate for a hand-drawn animated film that they both find a kinship through the arts and both have great personalities. This is utilised both through heart and laughter, as the underlying sweetness of the story is combined nicely with the humour. The jokes are more quiet than the usual animated picture, with the visuals presenting the comedy a lot of the time. In Ernest’s first scene, he has a small funny fight with a couple of hungry birds, mostly through the character animation rather than the dialogue. Simple but yet very funny gags like that are all throughout the film and they add a lot of charm to the story.

The screenplay is quite smart as it tackles not only topics of prejudice and fear, but also false customer loyalty and the stifling that comes from putting unfair aspirations on a child. Satire might be the last thing one might expect before sitting down to watch Ernest & Celestine, but it’s cleverly put together and it is films like these that continue to buck the annoying stereotype that animation is merely children’s fare. The story manages to juggle these themes in a manner that contributes to the film, rather than get in the way of the main plot. All of them connect to bring Ernest and Celestine together and the harshness of the lives they have faced makes their happy moments all the more sweet. The father/daughter-like relationship that builds between the two is not something unique, but the way the screenplay constructs it is certainly written in an original way.

It is always a rare treat these days to see hand-drawn animation on a big screen and Ernest & Celestine, despite being a rather small picture, benefits from being watched in a cinema. The pencil strokes are beautifully drawn and there is a real softness that the animators bring to the film. Every little detail and even the line work is exceptionally done and it almost looks like an entire canvas being painted before your eyes. From start to finish, Ernest & Celestine has the appropriate feel of a storybook and the character animation is successful in conveying that. The background is very impressive, too, with the necessary sharp contrast between the underground society built by the mice and the more straightforward town houses the bears frequent. Directors Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner have commanded their team to create some stunning work that is certainly something different from the equally amazing high-tech wizardry seen in computer-animated features.

When these international smaller animated films are released on this side of the Atlantic, it can be quite a journey to locate them due to lack of proper distribution and promotion. I was quite lucky to see this was playing and it is a good thing I jumped at the opportunity to see it. Ernest & Celestine is consistently adorable and charming, but there is also a smart subtext found underneath the story. It is always a joy to watch a film that obviously had a lot of creativity and imagination put into it, especially in animation. Ernest & Celestine certainly fulfills that promise and if the chance arises to see this touching film, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to seize that opportunity.  It is a smaller and quieter film than last year’s massive animated productions like Epic and Frozen, but it is no less impressive in its execution.

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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