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Entries in Ernest & Celestine [2012] (1)

Friday
Apr042014

Ernest & Celestine (2012)

The Brilliant Rainbow of Friendship

Note: This is a review of the French-language version of Ernest & Celestine. A star-studded, English-dubbed version is also available, but you just can't beat the original voice talents.

I don't have a lot to say abut Ernest & Celestine, except GO SEE IT RIGHT NOW!!!

Sorry, I'm a little excited.

Forget Frozen; this animated French-language masterwork is not only one of the best children's movies in years, it may be the most innovative and imaginative of the decade. Co-directors Benjamin Renner, Stephane Aubier, and Vincent Patar, and writer Daniel Pennac (working from Gabrielle Vincent's books), have created an utterly immersive watercolor world that you'll need a compass to find your way out of. The deceptively simple yet indescribably emotive movements of its characters will likely have even the most casual fan of animation asking, "How did they do that?"

The answer may astound you, but I'll get to that in a minute. The film centers on a mouse named Celestine (Pauline Brunner) who lives in an orphanage and earns her keep in a dental practice. Each day, she ventures to the above-ground bear village to steal teeth, which are then filed down and fitted to the citizens of the mouse city. Meanwhile, an out-of-work one-bear-band named Ernest (Lambert Wilson) wakes from hibernation and stumbles into town in search of food. The well-to-do residents don't take kindly to vagrants, and the feisty Ernest soon finds himself on the wrong side of the law--along with the meek, hungry mouse he finds in a garbage can.

In an interview, Renner aptly described Ernest & Celestine as "Romeo & Juliet with friendship instead of romance." This is a lovely movie about not just class conflicts but also the struggle to find one's place in the world, and the cozy, odd circles formed by misfits. The main characters' love affair is with creativity and solitude; they spend their days together making art and exploring nature, while the outside world winds itself into a frenzy over two fugitives whose greatest crime is being together.

Unlike slicker Hollywood kids' stuff, Ernest & Celestine is a warm, charming, and inoffensive all-ages affair--the polar opposite of whiz-bang filmmaking that substitutes action for characterization. There is action here, to be sure, but it is executed sparingly, and with such visual panache that the scenes can be cherished--not simply endured.

Yes, back to the visuals. Like The Illusionist and Winnie the Pooh, Ernest & Celestine celebrates classic animation and environment rendering. But Brenner and company take matters a step further by using Flash and proprietary animation software specifically invented for their film to give the impression that everything is a watercolor-painting effect. From the seemingly random dashed lines of the charcters' silhouettes to the bodily tidal wave of the mouse city's collective police force, the film teases the brain with suggestions that what it's seeing is traditionally executed--even though, character-wise, the only paint brushes involved were likely supplied by Adobe.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning the lush orchestrations of Vincent Courtois. The dialogue in Ernest & Celestine comes in waves, and the spaces in between are filled with such musical grace and personality, that they almost become the film's third star.

Sadly, mainstream animated features are becoming more and more like mainstream action features and comic-book movies: off-the-shelf stories cloaked in increasingly detailed 3D ornamentation. They're often great to look at for five minutes, but the thrill can wear quickly for anyone over the age of eight--unless there are musical numbers to punctuate the dull bits. In contrast, this film is a living, breathing assault on conformity, whose every detail is meant to inspire wonder, laughs, tears, and a good, old-fashioned joie de vivre. In short, Ernest & Celestine is the Ernest & Celestine of children's movies.

Chicagoans: There are a lot of really cool films to check out this weekend. If you see only one on the big-screen, I implore you to catch Ernest & Celestine at The Music Box on Southport (the theatre is hosting separate English- and French-language screenings throughout the week).