On the rare occasions that I go to art museums I prefer to go to look at classical art over more contemporary art. It’s not that I necessarily find classical art more stimulating – if anything, the emphasis on portraiture that took place before the invention of photography is a little repetitive – but there was more of an emphasis on craftsmanship back then and I like that. A lot of contemporary art is more about the concept than the execution; it’s not always obvious if the work took twenty minutes or twenty days to create. If I’m underwhelmed by a classical painting at least I can admire the technique that it took to make it.
I feel the same way about hand drawn animation and CGI. I’m aware that CGI animation also requires a lot of time, energy and attention, but the craftsmanship in CGI is a little more hidden. It’s so sleek; it’s so uniform; it doesn’t seem like it was hand made because it wasn’t. Whereas if you look at something like Ernest and Celestine, the fact that it was made by trained hand is unavoidable. You can see the imperfections – spots in the floor where the shading is slightly uneven, perhaps, or scenes where the proportions are slightly different than what they used to be, or where the motion is fluid in a way that feels idiosyncratic. I can watch a Pixar movie and respect the animation, but I’m just not going to obsess over it the way I obsessed over this.
This is an absolutely gorgeous movie. It uses far more white space than you typically see these days, with the backgrounds often being left semi-blank, a touch I hadn’t realized how much I missed. The rooms are detailed in a way that looks purposeful, with the extra bits of texture presented to balance the composition, not because they had no choice but to put something there. The obvious humanity of the art gives the bear Ernest and the mouse Celestine an extra layer of emotionality over the angular plasticky beasts that most of the animals modern kids movies have these days.
I can’t say enough good things about this movie. The story is sweet and likeable, the voice actors hit the humor notes and the sad notes with equal aplomb, and the gentleness of the action, where no one is a villain but people are simply misunderstood, makes it an easy recommendation for kids. But because the movie looks so good, the rest of the movie’s grace notes are just icing on the cake; I would have liked this even with the sound off.