Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Ernest & Celestine (2014) ****

PG, 80 min.
Directors: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner
Writers: Daniel Pennac, Gabrielle Vincent (book)
Voices: Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Jeffery Wright

Here’s a word of advice. When you see the list of Oscar nominees for best animated feature each year, find the movie you’ve never heard of on it and that will be one of the best movies you’ve ever seen. Perhaps this year’s nominees aren’t the best exampl, because “Frozen” was the winner and in many ways deserved it. Also nominated this year was Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”, so far unseen by me, but undoubtedly filled with his signature genius. With the fantastic French-Belgian anime “Ernest & Celestine”, this year brought three amazing candidates for the sometimes pointless prize.

“Ernest & Celestine” is an adaptation of the children’s book by Gabrielle Vincent that shows us a world in which bears live on the surface and mice live underground. The two species are mortal enemies. Celestine imagines a bear and mouse that are friends, while the rest of the mouse world fears the bears and tells their children terrible stories about the horrible bears.

Ernest is a bear without any money and an empty cupboard. He goes to town to try and make some money panhandling and is run off by the police. Celestine is sent to the surface to collect teeth for the greatest mouse profession—dentistry. The bears tell their children of the mouse fairy who takes their teeth away when they lose them. After Celestine loses her way, Ernest stumbles upon her in a trashcan. Before he can swallow her whole, Celestine offers another option for food. And so a friendship begins.

In description, “Ernest & Celestine” might seem just a cute kids story that has a good lesson against prejudice. In its execution, it is one of the more beautiful animes I’ve ever seen. The art is expressive and gentle and beautiful and simple and perfect. The animation has perfect timing. The colors are vibrant and subtle and gorgeous. And if, you question my use of the term amine, its important to realize that while the style of animation known as anime was popularized by the Japanese, the French created it. This movie doesn’t have the violence generally associated with anime. What it has is the incredibly expressive faces and gesture of anime, which is so powerful in such a tender story as the one told here.

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