Hollywood, sadly, has turned its back on traditionally-styled, 2D animation for the big screen. With the rare exception of The Princess and the Frog, animated films from the major studios have all recently been of the computer-generated variety, barely separated from big visual effects movies by the look of the characters. To find films that celebrate the traditional style, one has to turn to those created in other countries, such as the works of Miyasaki or, in this case, the French film Ernest & Celestine. Read my Ernest & Celestine Blu-ray review after the jump.
Based on the Belgian book series by Gabrielle Vincent, the tale of Ernest & Celestine is a simple one of fear, hate and prejudice and of those who dare to challenge those beliefs. The mice fear the big, bad bears; the bears hate the subterranean dwelling mice. Celestine (Mackenzie Foy, English version; Pauline Brunner, French version) is a young mouse and aspiring artist who believes that all bears might not be that bad. When her artwork causes her to fall behind in collecting bear teeth for her dentistry internship, her supervisor orders her not to return until she caught up. Celestine enlists the aid of a down-on-his-luck bear, Ernest (Forest Whitaker, English version; Lambert Wilson, French version), whom she has helped find food. But when Ernest and Celestine’s collaboration is discovered, they both have to go on the lam from their respective societies. In doing so they form a deep, beautiful friendship that carries them through even their eventual captures and trials to creating a happy family upon release.
The story, while not particularly complex, is sweet, and it does at times take dark turns befitting the undercurrents of the subject matter. Furthering that end, the voice talent truly embody their characters, with warmth and emotion a step above the average animated movie. But the real star here is the art. The animation is both minimalistic and gorgeous, a combination of hand-drawn characters (subsequently computer-animated) over watercolor paintings, perfectly capturing the spirit of Vincent’s books. Gentle motion lends the film a slightly dreamy atmosphere.
The 1.85:1 picture features a relatively muted color palette as befits its watercolor basis, one of the better-looking animated Blu-rays I’ve seen. As for sound, the disc includes the original French and the English dubbed soundtracks, both clear and warm if not exactly pushing the audio envelope (not that they should for this type of film).
If any complaints are to be had, it is the lack of special features, although those included are more than worthy. The “Interview with Director Benjamin Renner” lacks the panache of a studio extra, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in substance. “The Making of Ernest & Celestine” is one of the better making-of’s I’ve seen lately; clocking in at 52 minutes, it goes deeply into the filmmaker’s process. Also included is a feature length animatic of the of the movie and the theatrical trailer.
All in all, I would highly recommend Ernest & Celestine, not just to families with kiddies but to fans of animation and moviegoers overall.