GKIDS picks up ‘Ernest & Celestine’ for a fall 2013 release (UPDATED)

Strike one potential animated contender from the list (which was just updated this morning). You might recall that Guy was a big fan of Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner’s “Ernest & Celestine” at Cannes, offering that it’s “schooled in the gentle economy of picture-book storytelling: its words are witty and well-chosen, yes, but it’s the delicate visual construction of its parallel worlds that invites the most scrutiny and empathy.” He then went on to declare that it deserved US exposure.

Well, it looks to get it, as hero to the independent animated film community GKIDS has just announced acquisition of the title. But it won’t be bowing it in this year’s race. It’s being held for fall 2013, where it should be considered formidable amongst whatever usual usual studio fare will surely be in the conversation. The film is officially set for a North American debut at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, but I’m hoping it might pop up at Telluride first. That’s where I discovered “Chico & Rita” a year before GKIDS picked up that unassuming but beautiful ditty, which went on to nail down an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film last year.

“We are overjoyed to be bringing Ernest & Celestine to US audiences,” GKIDS president Eric Beckman said via press release. “The film is a triumph of 2D animation and storytelling. A phenomenally beautiful hand painted watercolor design, immensely likable characters, a wonderful ‘friendship against all odds” story that sweeps you up and does not waste a single minute of screen time. It is just overflowing with warmth and playful visual humor, there is so, so much to like about this movie.”

I know he’s the president of the company and everything, but consider me sold. Further thoughts from Guy out of Cannes:

“The film represents a slight challenge to prospective backers: it’s perhaps too child-focused for the kind of highbrow arthouse play that, say, ‘The Illusionist’ received through Sony Pictures Classics, but a little too quiet and rarefied for a crossover kid audience, even in redubbed form. GKIDS, which has recently handled such in-between animated items as ‘A Cat in Paris’ and ‘Chico & Rita’ (earning Oscar nods for both), would be the ideal home for Aubier, Patar and Renner’s lovely film.”

Nice bit of prognostication, there. He went on to note, rightly, that the studio’s slate was looking a bit stacked, but it’s being shaped more and more for the season. “Tales of the Night” was a film recently nixed from our slate of contenders, but it is ineligible due to it being a 3D reworking of short films that previously aired on French TV. “From Up on Poppy Hill” from Studio Ghibli is in contention and could certainly be a nominee.

That leaves “The Rabbi’s Cat,” which landed at GKIDS after being considered a potential possibility early on last season in the same announcement as Berlinale and Annecy Animation Festival hit “Zarafa” and two other films: “Le Tableau” and “A Letter to Momo.” I’ve heard only “The Rabbi’s Cat” and “Zarafa” will be released this year out of that list, but I’m awaiting confirmation. If so, that would leave 18 films on my prospective list. But four of those don’t have distribution yet, putting us at 14, which according to last year’s rules shake-up would yield just four nominees. There needs to be at least 16 qualifying titles to make a full slate of five nominees.

GKIDS surely knows their decision on these other films puts the category on the bubble, so it would probably be wise to qualify all that they can in order to guarantee a wider net. Last year they surprised with two nods, though, so clearly animators respond to the work they distribute, regardless of the number of nominees. In any case, they’re holding a lot of cards in this hand.

GKIDS is handling US theatrical, home video, digital and TV rights for “Ernest & Celestine” and will dub the film into English for release in Fall 2013.

UPDATE: A source tells me that he has heard GKIDS will be releasing all but “A Letter to Momo” for qualification this year, but nothing official yet from the studio. However, Beckman tells me they will be announcing their plans shortly, so we’ll know soon enough. I’m also told Disney could release “Secret of the Wings,” the new “Tinker Bell” movie, for a week at the El Capitan in Los Angeles before marching it out on home video, thereby helping the numbers game. They have pulled that trick with the franchise before. So I’m adding that and a few Toronto-bound titles mentioned in the comments section to our list.

UPDATE 2: We can confirm a qualifying run for “Secret of the Wings” now and Disney will also be qualifying “Arjun: The Warrior Prince.”

UPDATE 3: Now it’s official: GKIDS has issued a press release announcing that it will be qualifying the four films noted in update #1 above. Also, Steve Pond is reporting that “A Liar’s Autobiography,” mentioned yesterday, will be given a qualifying run as well.