Ernest and Celestine a Treat for Kids and Grown-Ups

ERNEST and CELESTINE (2012 in France; 2014 USA)
Directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, et. al.
La Patri Productions, 80 minutes, G (Dubbed in English)
* * * *
I don’t recall which of my friends recommended the delightful animated film Ernest and Celestine, but if it was anyone reading this review, thank you, thank you, thank you! It is sweet, sentimental, and cute–in all the good ways.

As animated films often do, this one builds an alternative world, one in which bears live above ground and mice below the surface. As everyone knows, bears and mice hate each other—even if they don’t know why. That’s just the way it is. It would take two special beings to break through the walls of prejudice, which is what happens. Ernest is a jazz musician, but he’s really a slacker bear who mooches off others and is too scatter-brained and disorganized to do anything as mundane as planning. Naturally, when he awakes from his winter sleep his bear pantry is bare and because of his shabby musician appearance, he has no luck begging for spare change from the bourgeois bears of the town. Driven by hunger, he impulsively burgles a sweet shop window and consumes everything in sight, which makes him a bear on the run.

The mouse Celestine is a dreamer in her own way, but she’s as assertive as she is idealistic. Her troubles begin when her studies don’t go well. It seems that mice have an underground industry in dentistry! After all, what’s a mouse to do if he or she loses a few incisors? Starve to death? Nope. You go to a dentist’s office for an implant and it’s the job of trainees such as Celestine to secure a supply of replacement teeth. As fortune would have it, castoff bear teeth are the gold standard, as they can be whittled down to make lots of mouse incisors. This, of course, means mice must make risky journeys above ground—a trip that could lead to death by stomping or chomping.

You pretty much know the rest. Through a set of bizarre circumstances Ernest and Celestine are thrown together in an animated riff on It Happened One Night. They eventually become good friends, and find themselves outcasts in their respective worlds (both of which are imaginative and visually appealing). More wacky circumstances lead to direct engagements between the two worlds and confrontations with illogic, bigotry, and rigidity. There will be a happy ending.

If all of this sounds gag-me sweet to you, I can assure you that I shared those reservations. Me? Watch a children’s cartoon made in France? Quelle horreur! Yet I found cynicism impossible to sustain amidst this film’s charms. Ernest is simply a lovable goof and Celestine is an Everywoman underdog. (Okay, undermouse.) Go ahead. Raise your cynical hackles. At some point in this film you’ll find yourself saying, “Awww….” To be sure, it’s a kids’ moral lesson about the value of friendship and the dangers of preconceived prejudice, but the animation, jibes, and spirit of this film will also appeal to discerning adults.
The English-language release of this film features Forest Whitaker’s tone-perfect exclamations for Ernest, as well as cameo voice work from luminaries such as Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, and Jeffrey Wright. Give it a try and be prepared to be awwwwed. 
Rob Weir

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