Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Ernest and Celestine
Pretty much every year, the Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature includes one surprise nomination. I don't mean one film that didn't earn strong enough reviews to be an Oscar-contender (although that also happens a lot) but a film that most mainstream moviegoers haven't heard of before the nominations are announced. Last year, that film was Ernest and Celestine. The film only got a token release in theaters, but it is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack this week. Did it earn the nomination? And is the Blu-ray Combo Pack worth picking up?
Ernest and Celestine takes place in a work of anthropomorphic mice and bears. As the opening credits play, we see some hand-drawn doodles, which are drawn by Celestine, an orphan mouse. Her picture is of a bear holding a mouse. She claims they are friends, but the other mice say bears and mice can't be friends. Shortly after, the matron of the orphanage, The Grey One, comes in and the mice act in near-military precision to get into their beds ready for a bedtime story. The story she tells is, The Big Bad Bear, which doesn't have a plot and instead makes the mice terrified of the bear's appetite. Only Celestine isn't isn't scared of bears.
Next we meet Ernest, who is just waking up. Like The Grey One said, when bears wake up, they are hungry. Only Ernest has no food, aside from a few crumbs that the birds get. Needing food, he packs on his one man band outfit and heads to town.
That night, Celestine and a couple of the other mice go out from the sewers where they live to the above world where the bears live. There's a candy shop, which seems like a great place for a mouse to raid. However, Celestine is more interested in the bear family living above the shop. The son just lost his first tooth and Celestine hides in the corner drawing the scene of the mama bear and the papa bear explaining the Tooth Mouse Fairy to their son, Leon. (Apparently, mice steal bear teeth to practice dentistry and all mice must become dentists.) Unfortunately, Celestine is spotted. She makes it out, barely, but is trapped in a garbage can.
The next morning, Ernest tries to ply his trade and sing for some food. There's a reason he's starving. Worse still, it's against the law to do this, so he's one-man band outfit is taken away and he's given a fine. Desperate for food, he starts trashing garbage cans looking for something to eat when he comes across Celestine. At first, he does exactly what The Grey One said he would do. He tries to eat her. However, a quick slap in the face puts an end to that. Celestine then explains that eating garbage, or mice you find in the garbage, is really bad for you. It would be much better if he would just eat the candy in the candy store. She's able to open the cellar window to the candy store and let him in, this allows her to escape as well, but Ernest is still very happy that she was able to help.
Back in the mice world, Celestine goes to hand in her teeth, or should I say tooth. Because she was spotted so soon, she wasn't able to get any other teeth. And since she was so far behind her quota, the head dentist gives her a lecture on the importance of dentistry and bear teeth to the mouse civilization. His lecture ends with a warning. If she doesn't bring in 50 teeth, she's can't come back to mice town.
When Celestine does get back to the bear town, she sees the candy store owner selling candy to some kids. One of them is his own son, but he refuses to sell him any candy. Papa bear sells candy to rot bears' teeth and Mama bear sells teeth to replace the ones bear's lose. It's a brilliant business plan. Only, you need to be able to smile to sell stuff, and you need healthy teeth to smile, so no candy for Leon. At this time, Papa Bear discovers Ernest in his cellar. He got so excited by all of the food, that he forgot to get out of there before anyone spotted him. The police are called and he is arrested. Fortunately, Celestine saw this going down and jumped in the police wagon and frees Ernest, in exchange for him doing a huge favor for Celestine. She wants him to break into the teeth shop and steal all of the teeth.
When the people of mice town discover all of the teeth Celestine got, she's seen as a hero. There's only one problem... Ernest helped her carry the bag into mice town and he fell asleep before leaving. Panic ensues and Celestine and Ernest have to escape mice town, but once they get to the surface, they have to escape the Bear police. Once they get to Ernest's place, he says goodbye to Celestine. He can't have her stay at his place, because after all, bears and mice can't be friends. He's been told that his whole life. He's also been told you can't get rid of a mouse unless you kill it. Since he's not willing to do that, they are stuck with each other.
An animated movie that is about two unlikely people becoming friends. Ernest and Celestine is hardly unique in that regard. However, while the basic setup isn't unique, nearly everything about the execution is fantastic. I'm a huge fan of digital animation and I hate it when people talk about grain as if it was an integral part of film. It is a flaw in the medium. That said, I loved the way this film looked. Obviously you can't get the most detailed animation with watercolor, but the style of the animation fits the mood perfectly. It feels like a children's book brought to life, complete with background illustrations that sometimes end before the frame does. (This style isn't surprising, as the movie is based on a series of children's books by Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent.) The characters are wonderfully brought to life, both in terms of the animation and the voice-acting. Both of the main characters feel very real and the voice-acting in both English and French fit perfectly. There is not a lot of action in the plot, which is nice as it allows more time for us to just watch Ernest and Celestine become friends in an organic way. I also love the parallel stories that take place after Ernest and Celestine are separated. It really illustrates the theme of the movie very well. It is never too scary, so younger kids will likely enjoy it, while it has a solid emotional heart that will draw in adults just as much.
Extras begin with a making of featurette, which runs 52 minutes long. This is already more than I was expecting, given its short theatrical run. Up next is a feature-length animatic. I like having these as an extra, but it would have been nice to use the Picture-in-Picture feature of Blu-ray players for this extra. Finally, there is a 14-minute extra with the director, Benjamin Renner.
Because of the watercolor style, there are not a lot of really crisp details. This is not like watching the latest Pixar release and marveling that you can count the hairs on each monster. That said, the details are a step up from the DVD. Also, the colors are fantastic. The film looks gorgeous. The audio isn't really complicated. The dialogue is always clear and there are enough ambient sounds from the surround sound speakers to make the overall effect engaging. You just can't compare it to a $100 million action film.
The Blu-ray costs $30, which is $7.50 or 40% more than the DVD. That's a bit much, but not a deal-breaker.
Ernest and Celestine certainly deserved its Oscar nomination and I really hope more people discover it on the home market. It is certainly worth picking up, while neither the DVD nor Blu-ray Combo Pack is a substantially better deal than the other.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Date posted: 2014-06-15