Ernest and Celestine

By Stefan Ellison

Mailed on February 19, 2014

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Dear Zaza and Zyk
Production Designers

Dear Zaza,

It's always a pleasure to see the pencil strokes of hand-drawn animation scrawled on a movie screen and your work on Ernest & Celestine's backgrounds lend themselves exceptionally well to its lovely storybook feel. The differing societies presented in the film is one of its primary delights. We get a sense of two communities that have more similarities than they might think: the aboveground world populated by bears is similar to small European villages and the mice live in carefully constructed burrows. However, in both societies, there is a true sense of history.

It makes sense that I cite your production design, since Ernest & Celestine is about two individuals who would fade into the background if it weren't for their amazing artistic skills. Celestine the Mouse loves to draw, while Ernest the Bear is a classically trained pianist. They are completely at odds with the demands their societies lay down on them: the mouse world is obsessed with collecting bear teeth and Ernest comes from a long line of judges. When they meet, there is an instant kinship between them. The film indulges in the sweetness between them, when both are on the run for committing acts seen as counterproductive in their respective worlds.

The hand-painted backgrounds have a delicate touch to them, with a softness that suggests the feeling of flipping through a picture book. Your designs compliment the character animation wonderfully. They feel integral and even add a bit of quiet humour, including a great scene in which Celestine tries to sleep while Ernest plays his piano upstairs. Whether you watch it in French or in the English dub, the jokes aren't lost in translation and that's in large part because of the deftness of your artwork. Though the concept of mouse tooth fairies is a very European one, directors Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, along with screenwriter Daniel Pennac make it feel universal.

The mood of Ernest & Celestine, and why it manages to work so well, is its sheer adorableness. The way the two characters bond is sweet, reminiscent of a father-daughter relationship. The intelligence of the screenplay also shines through with its messages on prejudice. The bears, it turns out, are just as afraid of the mice, but the movie never gives a real reasoning behind this (as prejudice works much the same way). The film even makes a sly connection between the ruthless mouse dentist and the bear who cunningly ruins his clientele's teeth with sweets so they'll to his wife's dental shop. All of this plays into the subtle sense of humour that runs through the entire picture.

Computer animation continues to evolve and grow as the talented artists at Disney and Blue Sky succeed in creating and taking us to magical worlds. You've proven with this film that the art of hand-drawn animation is still very much alive. Ernest & Celestine possesses a quiet innocence and that storybook quality owes a lot to the production design. Altogether, this is a very touching, enriching story.

From an old and new school animation fan,


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