Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia Fights the Power in Sweet SequelMovies Reviews animation
A crowd of bears gathers around a piano. A lone musician sits on its bench, earnestly cracking his fingers in preparation for what’s to come. The concert begins; it’s a lackluster musical performance executed on a single piano key. When the noise ceases, the onlookers erupt into applause.
In Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia, the curious scene described above (which, admittedly, sounds like the setup of a mind-numbing riddle) is actually a startling portrait of life under authoritarian rule. At the start of this sequel to Ernest & Celestine—the lauded 2012 animated feature by directors Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier—Celestine (Pauline Brunner) has accidentally broken Ernest’s (Lambert Wilson) beloved “Stradibearius” violin. This mishap prompts the adorable mouse and bear duo to embark on an action-packed expedition to Ernest’s country of Gibbertia, which is home to the only luthier who can repair the instrument. The pair arrive at the mysterious territory searching for the craftsman, but are instead shocked to learn that all forms of music have been criminalized in Gibbertia. A land once recognized across the globe for its phenomenal musical talent has now become intolerant to even the sweet melodies of birds chirping in the morning light. Up against henchmen-like “music police,” familial dysfunction and a government which refuses to let go of its old ways, Ernest and Celestine must harness the powers of nonconformity and friendship to challenge the status quo.
Like all worthwhile children’s work, Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia is driven by something deeper than the need for superficial laughs or spectacles: The desire to inspire its young audience to pursue their passions and stand up against authorities that threaten their freedom of expression and individuality. Following in the spirit of films like Mon Oncle and Brazil, Gibberitia employs situational absurdity to emphasize the nonsensicality of rules taken to extremes. Gibberitia’s self-identified music police are, on occasion, seen hosing down song birds, harassing street musicians and scaling the sides of buildings to seize illegal paraphernalia (a dangerous accordion). Similarly, signs with crossed-out musical notes and mottos that read “That’s just how it is” underscore the dread found in authoritarian states and how illogical dictator’s bizarre rules can be. The country did, afterall, get its name from the word “gibberish.”
What’s especially refreshing about Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia’s moral arc is that its protagonists are not necessarily fighting against a singular villain, but rather deep-rooted, systemic issues that suppress the freedoms of all Gibbertians. The film highlights how a rule that requires children to follow the professions of their parents is closely connected to Gibberitia’s banning of all non-single-note-music, forwarding the idea that certain laws may not always be in humanity’s best interest and that one has the ability to bring tangible sociopolitical change for causes they care deeply about. Gibberitia drills in the notion that we shouldn’t take things at face value. “That’s just how it is” simply isn’t good enough when threats to our freedom/creativity exist.
The rebellious spirit of A Trip to Gibberitia is further communicated by non-narrative devices such as its colorful musical score. Composed and orchestrated by Vincent Courtois, Gibberitia’s non-diegetic sonic landscape is colored by rich influences of Balkan ska and Romanian marriage dances. The upbeat sound of the film’s many chase sequences create a joyful experience, in which rebellion—for a just cause—is not just something to be celebrated, but something that feels intrinsically human.
Just as important as when buoyant musical themes fill the frame, however, are the moments where the score is absent and directors Jean-Christophe Roger and Julien Chheng allow the animation to speak for itself. A moment of auditory tranquility occurs when Ernest and Celestine commute to Gibberitia. Ernest is upset with Celestine for instigating his return to the country he abandoned, but when she turns away to rest, the grouchy grizzly can’t help but to cover the sleeping mouse to protect her from the cold snow just outside their window. Where some filmmakers might be inclined to accompany tender scenes such as this one with emotionally charged music, we only hear the faint rustling of snowfall outside.
The absence of score heightens the beauty of the watercolor-inspired artstyle. Here, the light of Celestine’s vibrant red jacket burns especially bright against the cool night sky. The imagery is full of emotion, nostalgia, soul. It’s in sequences like this, where the influence of Gabrielle Vincent, the late creator of the Ernest et Célestine children’s book series, feels pure and uncorrupted. The decision for Gibberitia to be made using hand-drawn, 2D animation techniques brings the film closer to a state between cinema and storybook—a state of creative magic.
These aesthetic choices aid in establishing the cheerful, lighthearted tone of the film and the tender friendship shared between Ernest and Celestine. The modesty of the 2D style adds a sense of humility to the characters and their relationships with one another. It’s easy to believe in the goodness of Celestine when the character is followed by bright, optimistic pastels throughout the film. Similarly, it’s easy to believe in the pure, platonic love that exists between the two protagonists when their outlines seem to disappear when they’re near each other, allowing them to live in visual harmony, to become one.
With all its rebellious encouragement and unique visual flair, Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia crafts a moral tale undoubtedly worth the watch—so that the next time we encounter a group of politically oppressed bears listening to single-note music, we’re better prepared to take a stand.
Director: Jean-Christophe Roger, Julien Chheng
Writer: Guillaume Mautalent, Sébastien Oursel
Starring: Lambert Wilson, Pauline Brunner, Michel Lerousseau, Céline Ronté, Lévanah Solomon
Release Date: September 1, 2023
Kathy Michelle Chacón is a Gen-Z writer, academic, and filmmaker based in sunny California. When she’s not writing for Paste Magazine, Film Cred, or Kathymichellechacon.com, you can find her eating pupusas, cuddling with her dog Strawberry, or sweating her face off somewhere in the Inland Empire.