Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Movie Review: Ernest & Celestine

Ernest & Celestine
Directed by: Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner.
Written by: Daniel Pennac.

Ernest & Celestine, like many animated films made outside of America, points out many of the ways in which Hollywood animated films go wrong. American animation have become all about non-stop action –fast cutting, and a constant barrage of color. Hollywood, it seems, thinks that children need constant motion and distraction or else they`ll grow restless and bored. Ernest & Celestine, made in French and based on a series of popular children`s books, is a gentle animated film – one that takes its time, and tells an interesting story about an unlikely friendship. It isn`t a great animated film, but it is a refreshing one.

The movie takes place in a world inhabited only by mice and bears. The mice live below ground and are taught from a young age that all bears want to do is eat mice – and as many as they can. Bears, on the other hand, think that mice are disease ridden and are not worthy of any thought whatsoever. The two main characters, however, think something different. Celestine, a young mouse raised in an orphanage, thinks that perhaps bears are misunderstood – and wants to be friends with a bear. Ernest the bear, works as a street performer – singing songs for change, and lives out in the middle of nowhere. It’s clear that the both of these characters have essentially been rejected by their own kind. Through a series of events, the two meet, and slowly but surely develop a friendship – when they are pretty much forced to hide out from everyone else – who think the two are criminals and want to arrest them.

I liked the visual look of Ernest & Celestine – which utilizes hand drawn animation, which Hollywood has all but abandoned in recent years. The film’s characters look like they stepped out of a children’s book – which of course they did. The trio of directors - Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner – also bring this storybook feeling to the background – making use of white space effectively. Yes, the film is decidedly low-key visually, compared to Hollywood films, but that’s one of the reasons I liked it. The visuals are matched by the story, which is essentially tells how these two lovable misfits, meet and gradually become friends. Celestine is simple and innocent – she wants to believe the best in everyone. Ernest seems a little older, and is definitely a more cynical. He expects nothing from anyone – and although he saves Celestine, more than once, his prejudice against mice is ingrained in him. But even someone as gruff as Ernest can only resist Celestine so long.

Ernest & Celestine will probably play better to younger children – although I do hope older children give the film a chance. Yes, the story is low-key – there are a few “action” sequences, but mainly this is a story about friendship, and not judging others by who they are on the outside. It’s a simple story – matched by its simple animation – but I thought the film was charming in a way that most animated films aren’t anymore. This is a film that takes its time to build its characters – that doesn’t try to pump up the action or give you a headache with nonstop action. Ernest & Celestine offers simple pleasures to be sure – but they are the kind of pleasures that few animated films do anymore.

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