[This is a repost of our review from the 2013 LA Film Festival. Ernest & Celestine is in theaters now.]
There’s a certain charm that comes from hand-drawn animation. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that you know many people have labored long hours over these images on screen. Perhaps it comes from recognizing each frame as a piece of art. Most likely it boils down to the fact that hand-drawn animated features are few and far between in the age of CG animated feature films. In recent years studios like Studio Ghibli are about the only animation studios still making traditionally animated features. Disney has pretty much turned its back on the format favoring CG animated films. When the opportunity arises to see a hand-drawn animated film in a theatrical setting it’s not one to be missed.
Celestine, a young mouse living in the orphanage in the underground city, has been taught that mice should fear bears, who live above ground, because they will not hesitate to make you their lunch if they catch you. Celestine doesn’t believe this and loves to draw pictures that depict a happy relationship between mouse and bear. While out collecting bear teeth, it seems in the rodent world dentistry is a booming profession and bear teeth are the best kind for rodent teeth replacement, Celestine is trapped in the bear city above. She has a chance encounter with a big, burly bear named Ernest and soon an unusual, sweet and charming friendship develops between the unlikeliest pair and the two of them find themselves getting into trouble from the get go.
Ernest & Celestine is based on a series of children’s books written by the late Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent. Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar, the directors of A Town Called Panic, join forces with animation director Benjamin Renner and screenwriter Daniel Pennac to bring the charming pairs adventures to the big screen. The film has a pleasant and gentle, watercolor look to it and it appears as though you are watching the actual pages from the books come to life. The voice work by Lambert Wilson (Ernest) and Pauline Brunner (Celestine) is very good. Wilson’s big and boisterous whereas as Brunner is small and demure with a touch of spunk. Pennac’s screenplay features a heartfelt message about looking beyond one’s differences, be they physical or social, and how important it is not to judge someone especially if you haven’t really gotten to know them.
Ernest & Celestine is an entertaining and charming animated film featuring some memorable characters and situations. It features a well written screenplay and nice voice work from its leads. Young children are sure to love it and more importantly adults will likely find it enjoyable as well. It’s a shame we don’t see enough hand-drawn animation in theatres anymore but at least this film reminds us that it is still a viable process to tell a story.