Can a bear and a mouse be friends? That's the question Ernest & Celestine seeks to answer, though the film's premiere trailer clearly points to a "yes" answer.
The story here is simple: in the underground realm of rodents, young orphan mice are taught lessons about the dangers of mingling with bears, but the precocious Celestine doesn't quite receive the message. (At the very least, she doubts its veracity.) On a jaunt to the surface world, she puts her misgivings to the test when she meets a starving bear named Ernest, and the two form an immediate bond.
Ernest & Celestine comes to audiences boasting an impressive animation pedigree; two of its three directors, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, are responsible for the madcap 2009 stop-motion animated movie A Town Called Panic, though this time they're adding newcomer Benjamin Renner to their directorial company. Meanwhile, they're rounded out by Didier Brunner, who served as a producer for a pair of Oscar-nominated films - 2003's The Triplets of Belleville and 2009's The Secret of Kells.
It's the latter two pictures to which Ernest & Celestine will be most often be compared, courtesy of similarly striking visual hallmarks, but there's an energy here that matches the anarchic wackiness of A Town Called Panic, too. Perhaps it's a bit presumptuous to claim that Ernest & Celestine combines the influences and proclivities of each of its participants - the film has yet to play on American screens - but it's easy to see why critics have responded with such acclaim to it already. It looks gorgeous and utterly delightful.
No wonder, then, that Ernest & Celestine has been bestowed the same honor as The Triplets of Belleville and The Secret of Kells, and earned a nomination for this year's Best Animated Feature race at the Oscars. For most years since the category's inception, it's been populated largely with computer-animated projects, with one or two traditionally animated offerings thrown in for good measure. This year, Ernest & Celestine finds itself pitted against the likes of Frozen, The Wind Rises, The Croods, and Despicable Me 2; along with The Wind Rises, the film should make for a nice alternative to its digital cousins.
Maybe the most eye-catching detail here lies in the French-language movie's English voice cast: from top to bottom, it's loaded with talent, from Forest Whitaker, William H. Macy, Paul Giamatti, and Lauren Bacall, to Jeffrey Wright, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and suddenly ubiquitous Twilight star Mackenzie Foy, who will appear in this year's Interstellar alongside the likes of Matthew McConaughey. Not a bad start for someone just starting out in their teens.
Short version: Ernest & Celestine looks wonderful. Odds don't necessarily favor it stealing the Oscar this year - Frozen and The Wind Rises have too much momentum - but that won't stop it from being magical and excellent in its own right. We'll find out at the end of the month.
Ernest & Celestine arrives in U.S. theaters on February 28th, 2014.