Annecy gives warm welcome to work in progress

Lambert Wilson (“The Matrix Reloaded”) will head the voice-cast of Gallic animated feature “Ernest and Celestine,” presented at the Annecy Animated Film Festival’s Work in Progress strand Wednesday,

“Ernest” is produced by two of Europe’s biggest animation forces: Didier Brunner’s Les Armateurs, pic’s lead producer, and StudioCanal, which distributes in France, Germany and U.K., and also sells international rights.

A far cry from his Hollywood Euro villain image of “Catwoman,” “Sahara” and “The Matrix” saga — or his turn as a scholarly Trappist monk in Xavier Beauvois’ arthouse hit “Of Gods and Men” — Wilson voices Ernest, a gruff bear who wants to be an artist, who befriends Celestine, an ingenious mouse.

Belgian stage actress Anne-Marie Loop will play an aged lady mouse and Dominique Collignon (“A Christmas Carol”) will voice a dentist.

Presented by Brunner to a packed audience, “Ernest” received a warm welcome — both for French novelist Daniel Pennac’s explanation of his screenplay and the delicacy of the animation.

First-timer Benjamin Renner directs with Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier, helmers of “A Town Called Panic.”

Animated mostly in Paris, “Ernest” respects the style of the original illustrations in Gabrielle Vincent’s series of books. For the film, Belgium’s Digital Graphics supplies water color textured graphics.

Film’s partners — which also include Maybe Movies, Belgium’s Le Parti and Stephan Roelants’ Melusine in Luxembourg — have signed a licensing agreement with Europe’s multi-national Copyright Promotions Licensing Group.

Pennac is working on the novel to be published year-end 2012. Book publisher Casterman will re-issue the 19 original novels by Vincent, who died in 2000.

“Ernest” will be ready for delivery April/May 2012 for release early in 2013, Brunner said.One of Europe’s foremost arthouse animation makers, producing Michel Ocelot’s “Kirikou” films, “Triplets of Belleville” and “The Secret of Kells,” Les Armateurs is also partnering with StudioCanal on Ocelot’s “Kirikou and the Men and the Women,” now in production.

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