The Oscar-nominated animated French-Belgian film is a simply rendered tale about a friendship between a mouse and a bear, painted with watercolor backgrounds and hand-sketched characters. In a movie landscape crowded with awesome digital animations and forgettable big-budget cartoon blockbusters, "Ernest & Celestine" is a humble oasis of gentle and inventive storytelling.
Though the film lost out to Disney's mighty "Frozen" at the Academy Awards, children and adults will be thrilled by this meek underdog, which is being released both in its original French and an English redubbing voiced by Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti and child actress Mackenzie Foy. (This review is of the French original, which holds the charm of hearing little children mice speaking timidly in French. Be warned: The cuteness is almost unbearable.)
It's a little story, told economically and with graceful minimalism. Sound effects have the simplicity of a Richard Bresson film. The music by jazz cellist Vincent Courtois is a sweetly melancholy companion to the fairy tale, which despite its cuteness, has a rascally French sense of humor, too.
Where did such a lovely little movie come from? It's based on the whimsical children's books by the Belgian author Gabrielle Vincent (the first "Ernest & Celestine" book dates to 1980) and directed by the young French animator Benjamin Renner, joined by co-directors Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier.
Together, they've created not just a positively charming movie, but an ode to the tactile pleasures of handcrafted artistry. Moviegoers will swear the coloring ink must have stained their local theater's movie screens.
It's very nearly the sweetest thing ever, a magical reminder that the movies just need a little heart and the resolve to be intimate when so many films would rather boast their size. It's a movie to share, like a cherished picture book or a beloved Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip, with imaginative pipsqueaks like Celestine.
"Ernest & Celestine" (three and a half stars)
Nominated for an Oscar, this hand-animated film is based on the children's books of Belgian author Gabrielle Vincent and tells the story of a mouse and bear who become friends. It features the voices of Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti and child actress Mackenzie Foy.
Rating: PG for some scary moments for younger kids.
Opening: Friday at Seven Gables.
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