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Ernest and Celestine - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published June 19th 2014
Old school animation from France
Directors: Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar (A Town Called Panic), Benjamin Renner
Voices of: Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti

Think of animated films and the first thing that comes to mind is the CGI extravaganzas of Hollywood, sometimes clever, sometimes cliched, but almost always a pretty overwhelming assault on the senses. Naturally, if you want something offering more refined charms, you turn to the French. With its distinct lack of technical bells and whistles or pop culture references, Ernest and Celestine is more likely to be appreciated by adults and very young children.

ernest celestine forest whitaker
Celestine and Ernest - improbable friends

The is the story of two worlds - the underground universe of industrious mice and the world above ground where bears live a very human-like existence in cosy little towns. In the former, Celestine lives in a strict boarding school and is routinely taught to beware of ferocious bears. Despite these warnings she has a deep seated longing to befriend a bear. On one of her ventures above ground, she meets Ernest, a lumbering bear down on his luck. So begins a sweet friendship, but a friendship forbidden by both societies.

Visually, Ernest and Celestine is like a moving water colour painting, often employing muted tones reminiscent of another French animation film, The Triplets of Belleville. As the story progresses and our heroes escape to the countryside, the colours become brighter and the compositions more arresting, particularly with some imaginative dream sequences.

ernest celestine lauren bacall
Lauren Bacall lends her distincitive vocal talents to the character of formidable head mistress The Old Grey

Although a French production, the version screening in Australia is not subtitled but voiced by A list American actors, including Forest Whitaker, William H Macy and most impressively the legendary Lauren Bacall as 'The Grey One', the formidable head of the boarding school.

There is a strong theme of unification running through Ernest and Celestine. The worlds of mice and bears are kept divided by authority figures instilling an irrational fear in their communities, creating mistrust towards the perceived enemy. While the powers that be maintain this division, the friendship between a child mouse and an underachieving bear, both shunned by their peers, becomes a source of hope for the audience. Both Celestine and Ernest are artists at heart, she a budding illustrator and he a frustrated actor. Together, in their own humble way, they take on the world.

ernest celestine forest whitaker

The filmmakers also seem to be up against the world with this simple, old school animation peeping out through a crop of high octane big Hollywood studio events. With an Oscar nomination earlier in the year and a swag of good reviews at film festivals, at least Ernest and Celestine isn't being completely ignored.





All images from https://www.facebook.com/ernestandcelestine
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Why? Oscar nominee for best animated film
Where: At selected cinemas
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