The Other Side of Animation: Ernest & Celestine Review

For the first review for The Other Side of Animation, I struggled to pick the first film to talk about. I could have talked about one of my recent favorites, Tom Moore’s Song of the Sea, which was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Disney’s Big Hero 6. I could have also talked about the vibrantly beautiful Azur and Asmar: The Princes’ Quest by famed French writer and director Michel Ocelot. However, while I will get to those movies in due time, I wanted this first review to be special. This Oscar-nominated film, Ernest & Celestine, was directed by Stèphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and French cartoonist Benjamin Renner. If you have heard of the first two directors, Aubier and Patar, that is because they made a stop-motion animated film called A Town Called Panic back in 2009. The film was produced by Didier Brunner, who has been around the French animation scene with collaborations with Michel Ocelot on Tales of the Night, Sylvain Chomet’s The Old Lady and the Pigeons and The Triplets of Belleville, and Michel Ocelot’s Kirikou and the Sorceress. Not only that, but he also helped out Tom Moore with his first major film, The Secret of Kells. Now then, shall we get started? Is Ernest & Celestine a classic that should have gotten more attention?

The story is set in this strange world where mice live underground, and bears live above-ground. The main focus is on a little mouse girl named Celestine, voiced by Makenzie Foy of Twilight fame. The adult mice send Celestine above-ground to obtain a cub’s tooth from a family of bears who live above the candy store, in order to replace their own teeth. In the process, she gets trapped in a trash can. The next day, she ends up meeting a hungry bear named Ernest, voiced by Forest Whitaker. What results in this meet-up is a powerful bond of friendship, outrunning the police, and tackling the challenges that their societies have brought upon them.

So, what do I really love about Ernest & Celestine? I mean, I started this series off with this one movie, so it must be pretty fantastic, right? Well, not to spoil anything, but I am going to explain why this movie is amazing. First off, let’s talk about the story. It’s pure and simple, but its execution is where it shines. It doesn’t have an overarching villain, or annoying side characters, or musical numbers. The main appeal of the story is the focus on the relationship between Ernest and Celestine. It’s charming, heartwarming, funny, and it feels genuine. Both Ernest and Celestine are likable characters that you can connect with, due to them being in a world where society tells them that they should do one thing and not another. Due to how simple the story is, there is more time spent on focusing on the relationship between Ernest and Celestine. It’s nothing romantic or off-putting, it’s a wholesome and easy-to-relate-to friendship. You get such a warm feeling when you watch the two of them bond. This is especially true with the final scene in the film. There is also a clever bit of commentary about discrimination, and running a business racket. What do I mean by that last example of commentary? Well, Nick Offerman’s character is a candy store owner. He makes sure to rot people’s teeth out with delicious sweets. That’s fine and all, but where do the bears go to get replacements? Why not head over right across the street to the teeth store that is owned by the wife of Nick Offerman’s character? I found this bit of commentary funny.

The animation is outstanding. This is some of the slickest animation I have ever seen. The fact that it looks like watercolor makes it stand out even more. Every character is incredibly expressive, and a good example of that is when Ernest and Celestine are in Ernest’s house, and she is expressing her hatred for glue traps. The expression on Ernest’s face as Celestine goes into detail about why the glue traps are torturous is hilarious. The slick animation also helps out with some of the best scenes from the movie, like the underground to above-ground chase scene. It just screams old-fashioned movie making, with well-executed stunts and slapstick that you would see in the very early days of film. The animation also leads to some incredibly artistic and creative sequences. For example, there is a scene where the two need to hide the delivery fan that they got away in. Instead of just putting a cloth over it, they paint the entire vehicle to look like the environment around them. Another great scene where the animation is expressive is when Ernest plays the violin. It reminds me of something out of Fantasia, where the artist animated what they heard through the music.

The voicework is phenomenal. Each character in the English dub is well-casted. Forest Whitaker voices Ernest, Makenzie Foy is Celestine, and the rest of the cast includes big names like William H. Macy, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, and the late Lauren Bacall.  The music is also extremely well-executed. Composer Vincent Courtois brings us music that is elegant, charming, heartwarming, and energetic when needed. If I had to pick my favorite track, I think it has to be the song at the end of the film, and rightfully so, is the film’s theme song. I might not understand the French lyrics, but I always feel calm and collected, and have a smile on my face each time I listen to it.

If I had to say one little nitpick that doesn’t detract anything from the movie, there is a sequence where both Ernest and Celestine go through a nightmare where they each know that they are both there for one another. It happens in a span of five minutes, and I felt like they could have put maybe a minute or two more between both nightmare sequences.

Outside of that, Ernest & Celestine is a fantastic movie. It’s one of my favorite movies, and one of the best animated films of the past couple of years. If you are tired of seeing films done in the same formulaic Disney style, and want something more in the vein of when Pixar is on a roll, then I would highly recommend you buy this movie. I don’t know what else to say, but get a copy and enjoy it! Now then, how about I dip my toes into some Irish animation next with Song of the Sea? See you next time on The Other Side of Animation!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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