The story of an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest, and a young mouse named Celestine.
Animated films are overrun by computer graphics. We've become so used to this new normal that when we see a newly animated hand-drawn feature-length animated film, it's surprising. It's a novelty now, much in the same way stop-motion is. It's one of the many reasons I fell so hard for Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar's 'Ernest and Celestine,' a charming animated feature that happens to be lush and minimalist all at the same time.
Based on the "Ernest & Celestine" book series written by Gabrielle Vincent, this quirky tale of a hungry bear and a trusting mouse is a completely different avenue for CGI-hungry kids to take. A way for today's kids to see that not all animation has to be derived from the bowels of electronics. That the same magic and curiosity can be displayed with two-dimensional animation. The beautiful, watercolor appearance is only one of the many reasons to love this French allegory of society, class systems, and what we perceive as the set way of doing things.
In Celestine's (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) world, mice live in the sewers, and bears live up above. The mice have built large underground cities, rivaling the city-scape creations of the rats from NIMH. Above them is another civilization: the bears. The bears live in human-esque cities, complete with buildings, streets, town squares, police forces, and candy shops. The two civilizations don't mix. Bears are irrationally afraid of scurrying mice, much like we are; whereas mice are simply scared of being a bear's next meal. Celestine isn't afraid though. She asks her own questions. She isn't confined by the systematic fear of bears which permeates her society. She wonders what if bears and mice got along?
Ernest (voiced by Forest Whitaker) is poor and hungry. He tries to earn money by playing in the town square as a one-man band. It doesn't work. He's a surly bear. Willing to eat garbage if he can choke it down. Ernest's stomping around town and destroying public property all in the name of bear hunger just happens to be hilarious. Think Homer Simpson in a bear suit.
As the title implies Ernest and Celestine eventually meet. It's an unlikely pairing that builds upon like-minded ideals and the willingness to love others because of their differences. The children's book quality lets the film get away with blatantly preaching its own set of morals. Certainly there is a moral to the story, and it's pretty obvious what it is.
The fun comes in watching Ernest and Celestine interact. The way they come together serendipitously. The organic friendship they create and maintain. The way the movie sort of washes over you like a wave of watercolor and pastels.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give 'Ernest and Celestine,' a movie that had it been around when I was a kid I would've watched over and over, is that it is already being requested at our house by my nearly 3-year-old son. He's lived on a steady diet of Pixar movies. He digs many of Hayao Miyazaki's films too. And now, he's asking for this quaint hand-drawn story about a mouse and a bear. He curls up in a ball on the couch, recreating the scene where Ernest finds Celestine in a garbage can. He asks his mom to poke him just like Ernest pokes Celestine to see if she's alive. Whenever a kid takes to an animated film in that way you know you've got something special.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats:
This GKids release comes with a 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD. It comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase complete with a cardboard slipcover.
Don't let the simple animation fool you, 'Ernest and Celestine' may not pack the visual wallop of the latest Pixar or DreamWorks animated film, but its 1080p presentation is nothing to scoff at. The beautiful paint-like visuals are wonderfully rendered here. There's actually quite a lot of detail to be had amongst this minimalist animation.
The distinct, clear lines are perfectly defined. The way the backgrounds bleed in and out of view is astounding. The background and foreground are in a constant state of flux, either fading in or out of view. This would be a perfect place for rampant banding. Instead these fades appear natural. With its storybook aesthetic, it's almost as if the pages are being turned, and the image slowly comes into view as the eye explores the new page.
As for colors, this is a bright and vibrant affair. The watercolors aren't as muted as you might think they'd be. Reds are especially bold. Browns, grays, and blacks balance out the brighter colors. Even though it's an animation process that doesn't provide as much visual stimuli, there's no denying how great it looks in high-def.
'Ernest and Celestine' comes with two lossless tracks. Both of them are DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes. One is the original French track with English subtitles. The other is the English dub done with familiar acting voices like Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Nick Offerman, among others.
I first saw 'Ernest and Celestine' during its theatrical run. It was in French then. The French track here sounds every bit as energetic as it sounded theatrically. I was really interested to see if the English dub captured that same energy. For the most part it does. The new voices sync well with the animation. Forest Whitaker does an admirable job recreating the nervous destructive nature of Lambert Wilson's original Ernest performance.
The dialogue, on both mixes, is clear. Though one might complain that the sound on both mixes is a little low, causing one to turn up the volume on their receiver a few decibels higher than average. The action scenes where Ernest and Celestine are being chased by cops offer some great rear channel sound. Sirens and screeching tires are a few of the sounds that are provided for ambiance. Again, like the video, the audio is light compared to other animated films. However, it's every bit as engaging.
'Ernest and Celestine' is an enchanting little film, with a couple of great characters at its core. It's refreshing to see a hand-drawn animated film every once in a while. Seeing that there is still a magic captured by two-dimensional drawings that somehow doesn't translate quite as effectively to the three-dimensional. The video and audio are solid. There are some worthwhile special features included. 'Ernest and Celestine' is highly recommended.