|Ernest & Celestine (2013)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: June 17, 2014) "Mice can only be friends with bears in fairy tales," orphanage headmistress The Grey One (voiced by Lauren Bacall) tells her children at the beginning of "Ernest & Celestine." Whether this is or isn't truestranger things have happened, after alldirectors Stephané Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner's animated film adaptation of Gabrielle Vincent's book series envisions a magical alternate reality where it is. Big brown bear Ernest (Forest Whitaker) wakes from his hibernation and heads out into the snowy landscape in search of food. He finds little mouse Celestine (Mackenzie Foy) huddled in a trash can. She has recently left her orphanage after getting caught drawing pictures of bears, and isn't sure where to turn. When she is tasked by her dentist's office with traveling above ground to find spare bear teeththe best replacement for mice, as they are the most durableErnest agrees to help her find the next best thing. What follows will force this unlikely pair to stand up for their friendship and prove to their respective communities that there is no longer room in the world for stereotypes and prejudices.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 86th Academy Awards (it ultimately lost to juggernaut "Frozen"), "Ernest & Celestine" is genial, unassuming and irresistible. The film is thematically lighter and less demanding than, for example, 2010's brilliant French animated pic "The Illusionist," but gruff, good-natured Ernest and sweet little Celestine are positive, enjoyable characters and the bond they form touching in its compassionate sincerity. The U.S. dubbed version is generally just as much a delight (and will be more palatable for younger viewers), though Forest Whitaker (2013's "Lee Daniels' The Butler") is arguably miscast as Ernest. The plot, loose though it is, keeps things moving from one adventure to the next, while the expressionistic hand-drawn visuals are a far, admittedly refreshing, cry from today's prevalent computer animation. Each frame oozes the love of the artists who made it.
"Ernest & Celestine" is such a beaut on this 1080p Blu-ray that it almost comes as a shock when, a little past the midway point, there is a split-second instance of banding as Ernest rises from a dream. Otherwise, there isn't a flaw to be found here, from the pure, simple magnificence of its watercolor-inspired animation style to its sharply refined lines to the grandeur and surprising depth within its 1.85:1 widescreen frame. Downsides are slim to nil when it comes to the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which is an eloquent, lush, evenly dispersed lossless sound mix. Do not come to the film expecting to be blown into the next room, as it is not that kind of film. The audio is as gentle but emphatic as the friendship between its two unlikely title heroes. Please note that the Blu-ray arrives with the U.S. audio track with recognizable vocal talent, as well as the original French-language track with English subtitles.
- The Making of "Ernest & Celestine" (51:59, HD)
- Feature-Length Animatic (1:24:17, HD)
- Interview with Director Benjamin Renner (13:58, HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:21, HD)
"Ernest & Celestine" will bewitch children and grown-ups alike, a none-too-soon respite from the typically louder, busier animated features Hollywood tends to produce. GKIDS' and Cinedigm's Blu-ray release is excellent on every level, featuring a nearly one-hour making-of documentary, a feature-length animatic, and a top-tier audio/visual presentation. Buy it.