It’s not often that an actor has three different films to support in the Oscar race, and in three different capacities to boot — but Forest Whitaker is a busy guy. The 52-year-old actor, an Oscar winner seven years ago for “The Last King of Scotland,” is chasing a second Best Actor nod for his quiet turn in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Meanwhile, as a producer of “Fruitvale Station,” he’s chasing a less likely nomination in the Best Picture category. And now he has a horse — or, to be more accurate, a bear — in the Best Animated Feature race, as he leads the English-language voice cast of GKIDS’ delightful art house hopeful “Ernest and Celestine.”
The film, a beautifully hand-drawn tale of the forbidden friendship between a bear and a mouse, premiered in its French-language incarnation at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and that version has won a lot of fans on the festival circuit. After seeing it at Cannes (without subtitles, in fact), I was pretty much enchanted, calling it “the kindest, purest celebration of friendship” I’d seen for some time. The film is so European in its storytelling sensibility and wry humor that I have a hard time imagining it with American voices, so I’m excited to see the dubbed version. (Also, while my French is adequate, a few gags may have been lost in translation.)
Whitaker, no stranger to gentle-giant characters, will channel his inner bear as Ernest; “Twilight” tyke Mackenzie Foy will play the considerably smaller-voiced mouse Celestine. The all-star voice ensemble also includes Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Jeffrey Wright — a distinguished group that should help boost the film’s profile in the Best Animated Feature race. It’s just the kind of delicate artistic achievement that the animators’ branch often favors over flashier studio contenders; I guess you’ve worked out by now that I’m rooting it all the way. (Directors Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier were responsible for the equally charming, but considerably more chaotic, “A Town Called Panic,” which deserved more traction in the race than it got.)
GKIDS will open the film in the US next year. Meanwhile, Kris and I will be going into more detail on the Best Animated Feature contenders in next week’s gallery, so look out for that.