An utterly charming, animated creation, that stood against the titanic force of “Frozen” for this year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar—and failed to conquer. But you know what…it’s better. In fact, having reviewed 4 of the 5 nominees for that category at this point(this film, the winner, “The Croods” and “Despicable Me 2″…with just “The Wind Rises” to go), I’m going to anoint it the best, so far. Not that it really matters…that Academy contest ended months ago. And this modest, contemplative gem never stood a chance versus the triptych of high-grossing American competition or Miyazaki’s swan song. Anyway, the “Frozen” juggernaut simply slayed them all. But “Ernest & Celestine”, from the French-Belgian directing team of Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, had simpler pleasures on its mind. For instance, 3D and\or IMAX never got near it. But my six-year-old son seemed just delighted by it(truth be told, my nine-year-old called it “boring”). I watched it in the original French first, and then played the English language option for my boys. That latter version sports the celebrity voices of Forest Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, Lauren Bacall(!), William H. Macy and Mackenzie Foy. It’s the one that officially opened in the States this past winter, after a 2012 Cannes roll-out, and then working the festival circuit for months. “Ernest & Celestine” remains a little 79-minute slice of heaven.
Celestine is a young, orphaned mouse, that is taught to fear bears and loves etching drawings—but is forced to study dentistry(!). Ernest is a starving bear, that makes ends meet as a busker on the streets of Paris. The duo meet as rivals, learn to be friends, and eventually hide out from the law after the indulgence of a candy shop storeroom and the swiping of an array of false teeth. That’s about it from the light-on-its-feet screenplay from Daniel Pennac, but he’s savvy enough to include a battle between above-ground and below-the-surface dwellers, and their prejudicial class distinctions. It even finds room for somewhat gentle representations of courthouse battles, imprisonment—and the guillotine! Fear not…that last one is done in a mostly tame manner. There’s not a Broadway-style song in sight, plus “Ernest & Celestine” is old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation that’s sans computer-generated color vibrancy. It’s a gorgeous antique, in a burgeoning world that will someday push its like into the dustbin labeled “lost art”. Don’t dismiss it. And watch it with the original voice work of Lambert Wilson and Pauline Brunner like “big kids” are supposed to—although I guess I’ll give anyone 12 and under a pass. “Ernest & Celestine” is based on a series of children’s books, and it’s sweet—and a little loopy. And adorable. Grade: B+