Ernest & Celestine (★★★½)

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ernest_posterWhen we all think of animation and the journey it has walked through, naturally we all go to a big studio like Disney to offer up lots of the credit.  Rightfully so, the studio paved the way for companies like Dreamworks and Sony Pictures to dip their feet into the animation arena.  One of the quiet and brilliant studios that isn’t on the lips of everyone yet is the impressive GKIDS.  They made heads turn in the 2009-2010 awards season when they pushed The Secret of Kells and managed a surprise nomination for Best Animated Feature.  In 2011-2012, they pulled a one-two punch with Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris, snagging nominations as well.  For my money, they produced the best animated film of last year with Jean-François Laguionie’s The Painting and found no wiggle room to get in over Brave and Wreck-It Ralph.

This year, the animation studio is at it again with their captivating French film Ernest & Celestine.  Touching all the sweet parts of my cinematic heart, the Daniel Pennac written film tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a grumpy bear and a young mouse.  Encompassing the powerful elements of honesty, truth, and acceptance, Pennac’s screenplay, once again, fixates on the small details that bring our story full circle and unimaginably to life.  It’s one of the great surprises of the film year.  Pennac is quickly becoming one of my favorite animated film writers working today.

One of the qualities that have made other animation studios so successful over the years is easy application of the child-like story that is being told, into the moment of the now and even the adult world.  As life above ground includes Ernest, and a race of bears, they are the dominant power on the Earth.  Down below, lives a race of mice, fending for survival, and only going to the world above to collect teeth in preparation to become dentists, which all rodents hold.  Celestine lives in an orphanage, with a zeal and talent for drawing, she yearns for a world outside though stories are constantly told about the evil world of bears above.  Ernest is down on his luck.  When Celestine gets chased by a bear family after attempting to take one of the cubs’ tooth, she hides in a trash can.  When a hungry and desperate Ernest finds Celestine and tries to eat her, the two find an understanding and affection for one another that is both poetic and moving.

As we continue to live in a world that is dominated by the Pixar-3D mediums, that are only told in our native language, general audiences and industry people need to branch out their scope in the genre and discover these little diamonds that are found in the nooks and crannies of the movie world.  Lambert Wilson voices the gentle bear Ernest, who you might remember from The Matrix Reloaded as The Merovingian or more recently from Of Gods and Men where he played the lead Christian.  He plays particularly well off his co-star Pauline Brunner, who’s innocent ticks and beats in her voice, shine brightly through the naïve and sweet Celestine.

ernest_hires3The animation is simply stunning, reminiscing a storybook you would read to your youngest love, everything flows magically from page to screen, and inevitably into your heart. Directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner know, with great confidence, what kind of story they want to be told.  Inserting the humor at the appropriate times before hitting the right emotional chords with the viewer by film’s end.  A tender yet bombastic composition by musical composer Vincent Courtois is the film’s secret weapon.  Capturing the moment and executing the ambiance with absolute precision.  I was completely smitten with everything about Ernest & Celestine.

By any means possible, seek out this French animated film from GKIDS.  A sensational welcome to the animated genre that will be cherished for years.  Ernest & Celestine is proof that hand-drawn animation should and still lives well in the medium.  Its clever and fresh nature is purely magnetic and is something that should be considered for the Academy Awards.

The film is scheduled for a limited release December 6.

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Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.