Review: Ernest & Celestine (2012)

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Cast: Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall
Director: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner
Country: France | Belgium | Luxembourg
Genre: Animation | Comedy | Drama | Family
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Ernest and Célestine opens in limited release on Friday, March 14th

It might take the lovely little nod of a background poster for some viewers to notice that Ernest & Célestine comes courtesy of the manic minds behind the bizarre Belgian brilliance of A Town Called Panic, yet for all the movies’ many stylistic divergences, there’s a sublime shared sensibility here of awe in animated abandon. But if the delirious delight of Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s approach is key to this new movie’s enormous appeal, it’s no more so than the less-is-more ingenuity of new co-director Benjamin Renner, whose Oscar-nominated silhouette short A Mouse’s Tale is just as engrained in the vibrant visual heritage of this cartoon collaboration. Here is a film that’s, simply, too beautiful to be described.

…its every frame feels torn from the pages of Gabrielle Vincent’s storybooks, passed through the projector with all the pristine passion of the pastel drawings perfectly intact.

ernest_and_celestine_2012_4If a picture is worth a thousand words, it might take a million to do this film justice; its every frame feels torn from the pages of Gabrielle Vincent’s storybooks, passed through the projector with all the pristine passion of the pastel drawings perfectly intact. It’s a film that plays like a window into the imagination of a child lost in the leaves, not least of all for the unfinished edges almost inviting the images into a thought bubble. If the Oscar for Best Animated Feature had hinged on the animation itself we would have our winner here: Aubier, Patar, Renner, and their team have given us a movie that’s gorgeous to the last, a spellbinding evocation of its sumptuous source.

But while Ernest & Célestine excels as adaptation, it’s for its firm footing in film technique that it’s a great movie. Its finest sequence is an interlude in which the screen reacts to the soundtrack, a “painting-with-music” passage that nods to the work of Oskar Fischinger—Studie Nr. 7 particularly—and other experimentalists. It’s a moment of astonishing beauty in a film not wanting for them, an aesthetic infusion of styles painterly and operatic and for them intensely cinematic. Not lightly does the phrase “I could watch this forever” come to mind; not ever is it accompanied with such conviction. To see this film on loop to the end of time would be a fine fate indeed, and one of which none, surely, would tire.

But while Ernest & Célestine excels as adaptation, it’s for its firm footing in film technique that it’s a great movie.

ernest_and_celestine_2012_3It helps, of course, that the animation’s in service of as sweet a story as this, a tale of friendship between species divided into above and below-ground societies that’s as much a synthesis of the directors’ respective prior credits in narrative as it is in aesthetic. Aubier and Patar’s manic abandon finds suitable outlet in little mouse Célestine’s would-be career as a tooth fairy to the bears above; the scenes in the dentist’s share a fitful funniness with the spectacular silliness of A Town Called Panic. But Renner brings to bear the fabulist leanings of his own former work, meeting his collaborators’ wild wit with the simplicity of sentiment that lends this parable-plot so much of its endearing loveliness.

Indeed it’s for that simplicity of statement that the movie stays so firmly in the mind; this directorial trio might impart a message meant for the young, but none could ever dismiss the film as child’s play. Whether in a terrific “tracking shot” that plays like a hand-painted side-scroller or a sequence of dreams expressive and imaginative to the last, Ernest and Célestine meets a worthy story with wonderful style, reliably delighting each step of the way. “I’m not your nightmare,” the principals assure each other in mirror scenes of awakening; with its joyous joviality set to the splendid score by Vincent Courtois’, this movie makes itself the stuff of dreams. Take care not to tread on others’ toes as you dance down the aisle in delight.

[notification type=”star”]80/100 ~ GREAT. Ernest and Célestine meets a worthy story with wonderful style, reliably delighting each step of the way. [/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.