ERNEST & CELESTINE
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
Forest Whitaker as ERNEST
Mackenzie Foy as CELESTINE
Lauren Bacall as THE GREY ONE
Paul Giamatti as RAT JUDGE
William H. Macy as HEAD DENTIST
Megan Mullally as LUCIENNE
Nick Offerman as GEORGE
Directed by: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner
BY KEVIN CARR
Every year when the Academy Awards roll around, a debate happens in the film community as to whether they actually do good for film appreciation of whether the entire endeavor is an exercise in the industry’s gazing upon its navel. While much of the Oscars can be brushed off as egocentric and pandering, there are a few prime examples of how the ceremony actually brings to light movies that otherwise might be forgotten.
Recently, this has been happening in the Best Animated Feature category. Sure, you have Pixar and DreamWorks movies that rightfully deserve to be listed in the top tier for the year. Similarly, Studio Ghibli also makes the list quite often, and these are perfectly suited for the category.
However, over the past few years, more often than not, there is at least one movie that got a shot in the arm of its awareness due to an Oscar nomination. We saw that with movies like “The Secret of Kells,” “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico and Rita.” This past year, “Ernest & Celestine” was given the nod. (It didn’t win, losing to the front-runner “Frozen,” but it’s always nice to be nominated, isn’t it?)
“Ernest & Celestine” made it to American shores from the domestic distributor GKIDS, originally produced in France and Belgium. The story follows the adventures of Celestine (Mackenzie Foy), a young mouse that has trouble fitting in. Soon, she befriends a hungry bear named Ernest (Forest Whitaker), whom the mice are sure will eat them all. After going on the run together and disrupting the delicate balance of the mice stealing the child bears’ baby teeth to use as replacements for their own, both the bear and mice societies turn on the two fugitives to prosecute them.
“Ernest & Celestine” is a charming story that is a breath of fresh air against the extravagantly slick American films we’re used to seeing. Using somewhat rustic traditional cell animation, “Ernest & Celestine” plays out like a vintage children’s book, with a healthy dose of European sensibilities. Unlike what we normally see as kids films in theaters, “Ernest & Celestine” isn’t competing to become the biggest, loudest or most obnoxious movie.
Instead, “Ernest & Celestine” presents a tender story of friendship and enjoys its simple nature. With a movie like this, less is certainly more. It’s clearly aimed at the younger audience, unlike the producers’ previous film “The Triplets of Belleville,” but it has a similar animation style.
The American voice cast works well in their roles. Whitaker is a bit overly soft-spoken for the otherwise outwardly gruff Ernest, and Foy continues in the footsteps of other young English-speaking actors (like her “Breaking Dawn” co-star Dakota Fanning) who provide strong character support for adorable cartoon characters.
Other strong performances in the voice cast include Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally as bear parents, Lauren Bacall as the grumpy old woman warning the mice of dangerously hungry bears and Paul Giamatti as the lead dentist for the mice.
It’s not that I want every animated film to be like “Ernest & Celestine,” but I don’t want every animated film to be like “Frozen.” So for a sweet and fresh alternative to what is normally out there, check this one out. The kids will love it, too.
The Blu-ray includes a DVD for additional home viewing. The disc also includes both the original French language track along with the English dubs. There’s a long Making-Of featurette, plus the entire feature in animatic form. Rounding out the special features is an extended interview with director Benjamin Renner.