Judge Adam Riske's PPO covers mouse dentists.
"Do you know the story of the little mouse that did not believe in the big bad bear?"
I heard about Ernest & Celestine for the first time when it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. The film lost out to Disney's juggernaut Frozen and received little fanfare in the process. As a completest for watching all of the nominated films, I knew I would give it a spin when I had the opportunity. To my pleasant surprise, I actually enjoyed this charming and unconventional film more than Frozen…which is fine, but a bit overrated.
Facts of the Case
Below ground lives a tiny mouse named Celestine who has a hard time fitting in with her peers. She's an artist and uninterested in following her species' trade of becoming a dentist. Above ground lives Ernest, a poor street musician, who also happens to be a grumpy bear. After Celestine nearly becomes a much sought after meal for Ernest, both misfits form a fast friendship based on mutual need and respect which leads to a life of petty thievery. Can their friendship survive the prejudices of both their worlds, built on reciprocal fear and hate? Can the two bandits evade the authorities and live harmoniously?
I've seen Ernest & Celestine twice and—to be honest—I didn't love it on the first viewing. I found it to be pat and forgettable. But it's one of those rare films (there's usually two or three a year for me) where my opinion is enhanced on a second viewing, after knowing the story beats and being able to focus instead on the animation and themes present in the film.
For a family film, Ernest & Celestine certainly has much on its mind, specifically about race and prejudice. The story comes down on the stance that despite our cosmetic appearances (gender, age, species) we are not really all that different which is an important lesson to teach kids. The most striking aspect of this message is how it's presented visually via an evocative mix of hand-drawn watercolor and computer animation. The classical styling of the drawing (which looks comparable to sketches) gives the film a storybook-come-to-life feel. This artistic choice lends a great deal of charm to an unexpectedly moving feature from directors Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, and Stephane Aubier; the latter two being the creative force behind the crazy animated feature A Town Called Panic. Ernest & Celestine is even better than their previous effort.
The voice acting is worth noting. Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) does a terrific job approximating a bear voice and imbuing his character with both gruffness and warmth. If you toggle back and forth between the English audio dub and the original French language track, you'll see the difference between the two actors performing the character. I much preferred Whitaker's take. His partner in crime is Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring) as Celestine. Foy's squeaky inflection is perfect for the role of the timid but smart mouse. This actress should have a long career in voice acting, should she choose to do so. The remainder of the cast is filled with familiar names—Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, and Jeffrey Wright. All are solid and never too distracting, which is all you could ask for.
Does Ernest & Celestine rank among the best animated features of all-time? Certainly not. It's probably not even one of my favorites of the past five years. However, it is good throughout and very cute. It's also a film I admired just as much as I enjoyed it.
Cinedegm's Ernest & Celestine (Blu-ray) offers up a 1.851:/1080p HD transfer which looks great with vivid bright colors and pristine sharpness. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track will not give your home entertainment system a workout, but does the job admirably with always audible dialogue, clear effects, and a soaring musical score.
Bonus features include an exhaustive making-of featurette, tracing the origins of Ernest & Celestine as a children's book series and the film adaptation's production history. We also get an insightful interview with one of the film's directors, Benjamin Renner, who covers how he became attached to the project and how the team achieved the film's unique animation style. Next is a feature-length animatic which is really only for die-hard animation enthusiasts and not casual viewers. This particular feature is in French with no subtitles. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer and a standard def DVD copy.
Ernest & Celestine is a film that improves with familiarity on a second viewing. At first, what seems to be a slight animated feature, later reveals itself to be a quite poignant and insightful fable about race and prejudice. There is much to admire in this tale of friendship between a bear and a mouse. Due to the sophistication of its themes, Ernest & Celestine is probably best for viewers old enough to have a conversation with afterwards. Recommended as a rental before purchase.
Too cute and well-intentioned to imprison. Not guilty.
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