Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia

Evidently, society can learn a lot from a bear and a mouse. In their first film, Ernest and Celestine taught us a lesson in tolerance. This time around, they tackle artistic freedom and rigidly controlled labor markets. Sadly, there is little social or economic freedom in Gibberitia, Ernest’s hometown of bears. That is why he left in the first place. Unfortunately, he must return to have his prized Stradibearius violin fixed in Jean-Christophe Roger & Julian Chheng’s Ernests & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia, which opens Friday in New York, from GKIDS.

Ernest just woke up from a long sleep and boy is hungry, but there is no food in the house, so Celestine suggests they busk for money. Unfortunately, she trips on his slipper, breaking his beloved Stradibearius. The only luthier who can fix it lives in Gibberitia, so that is where she goes, with the reluctant Ernest trailing after her.

When they finally reach the Balkan-looking Gibberitia, Ernest finds it has drastically changed. All music consisting of more than one note is now forbidden and instruments are confiscated (ironically, some extreme punk could still be legal). However, there is an underground resistance, which presumably includes Ernest’s luthier, but they might not be so happy to see him. The law outlawing music is known as the “Ernestov Law,” named in his honor by his father, Nabokov, Gibberitia’s chief judge. He passed the anti-music regulations when his son left home to pursue music, rather than follow in his father’s jurist footsteps, as required by Gibberitian law and tradition.

Trip to Gibberitia
takes an unexpectedly dystopian turn, but it works much better than the third act of Mark Osbourne’s The Little Prince. Clearly, the “-ov” suffixes added to the character names suggest a commentary on Russian authoritarianism, either from the Soviet past or the Putinic present. It is also easy to hear Eastern European influences in the score composed by jazz cellist Vincent Courtois, which further emphasizes the Iron Curtain vibe.

Roger and Chheng worked as animators on the original
Ernest & Celestine, so they are obviously invested in the characters and the sophisticated look of Aubier and Patar’s film, which was faithfully based on Gabrielle Vincent’s children’s books. Under their direction, the animation is still very elegant. Yet, there might even be more funny parts in Trip to Gibberitia.

The design of Gibberitia is quite cinematic—so much so, it is a shame it is all made-up, because it sure looks like a nice play to visit. The anti-censorship and anti-regulation messages are also quite timely and enormously welcome. Of course, you can never go too far wrong with a film full of talking bears. Very highly recommended for animation fans (maybe even more than the first film),
Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia opens Friday (9/1) in New York, at the Village East.