Directed by: Julien Chheng & Jean-Christophe Roger
Distributed by: GKIDS
Written by Christopher Cross
The delightfully unconventional bond forged between a bear and a mouse was one of the most satisfying relationships to watch unfold in 2012’s “Ernest & Célestine.” The French animated family film was anchored by an adorable friendship that laid the groundwork for subsequent adventures to build upon that chemistry. Such is the case with “Ernest and Célestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” – a new adventure that sees the unlikely pair strengthen their bond as Ernest is forced to confront his past in his home country of Gibberitia.
What stands out during Ernest and Célestine’s latest adventure is the narrative prevalence of music and how that is reflected in the film’s presentation. The film picks up after the events of the 2012 film and the animated series, “Ernest and Célestine, The Collection,” and sees the two friends now living together. Ernest (voiced by Lambert Wilson) is currently suffering from a bout of depression as he awakes from a very long hibernation, leading to the two planning a trip out into the city streets to liven their spirits with a musical performance. However, the attempt to cheer Ernest up is short-lived, as Célestine (Pauline Brunner) accidentally breaks Ernest’s violin, forcing Ernest to reluctantly travel to his hometown in Gibberitia and find the one bear capable of repairing it.
A town once bursting with creativity and merriment, Gibberitia is now a shell of itself since Ernest left and “The Ernest Law” was put into place – now only a single note of music can legally be played before law enforcement gets involved. A masked vigilante now roams the streets playing music as it was intended and spreading false ideas about the value of creativity over following one’s pre-determined path through life. Ernest’s own story and the backlash he received when leaving Gibberitia to pursue a life in music over becoming a judge like his father serves as the backbone of “A Trip to Gibberitia’s” story.
It’s those introspective moments that accentuate the vibrancy that music provides in life, as an entire town toils away in silence performing the duties their families have always taken as their own responsibility. In between the chase sequences and moments of joy that break through the sullen state of Gibberitia, is a silence that feels unnatural. As Ernest and Célestine’s adventure continues, every moment the rhythm is stalled emphasizes a dour need for art in a world governed by keeping everything in its neat place. They are depressing moments and act as reminders of why Ernest needed music in his life in the first place.
Célestine ultimately takes a backseat to Ernest’s own introspective journey, acting more as a catalyst for events to happen as opposed to having her own arc. In fact, Célestine’s headstrong nature is another reminder of how easily Ernest can fall into that rut of depression without proper support systems to keep him moving forward. The film itself stalls and plays the same note a few times too often before Célestine comes in and pushes the narrative forward. The relationship between Ernest and Célestine is as strong as ever, but the most endearing moments of the film are often when the two are synchronized in celebration, which unfortunately isn’t often the case.
That being said, “Ernest and Célestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” still moves at a brisk pace, dancing along to its own rhythm and pausing at the most logical moments to dig deeper into Ernest’s past. Surrounded by his family and the past that he ran away from years ago, there’s always something new to explore with the character and while Célestine may not be a part of it, her role in Ernest’s life now is reflective of the role Ernest’s family could have had in the past. There are hints of what-once-was and that breaks through the noise polluting Ernest’s thoughts.
It also helps that the film maintains the same gorgeous animation style of the previous film, opting for a more watercolor-like aesthetic that gives the overall film a more storybook feeling. The action sequences in particular tend to stand out for how many parts are moving while the animation retains the feeling of pages in a children’s book flipping gradually into the next exciting moment. It’s an energetic film that is far more thoughtful in its approach to how it wants to convey those intruding thoughts of regret and homesickness, without sacrificing the momentum it builds through each propulsive moment.
Where “Ernest & Célestine” did a wonderful job setting up an endearing friendship between two unlikely animals, co-directors Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger establish that relationship as prime material for a series of cinematic adventures, just as was established in “Ernest and Célestine, The Collection.” It’s a film that takes advantage of the medium to forego the more serialized approach to its storytelling and dive deeper into one of its characters. That it ends up losing some steam because of this more-focused approach is unfortunate. It’s still an undeniably gorgeous and infectious film thanks to how adorable its characters are and the adventure they go on this time around is filled with twists and turns that are both thoughtful and exciting for fans of the delightful pair of friends.
“Ernest & Célestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” Trailer
Christopher Cross is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University. You can find more of his writing on his website and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Substack, or Letterboxd for more of his thoughts.