Movie Review - Ernest & Celestine

This French animation premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It played all around the world and scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 86th Oscars. It lost to Disney's Frozen. However, GKids didn't give the film a proper theatrical release in the United States until late winter and early spring 2014. It was only a limited release, so it passed many by, including me until now.

Based on books by Gabrielle Vincent, the pencil drawings and water colors is very reminiscent of other French animations like those by Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist). Written by Daniel Pennac, the world here is one where humans are non-existent and all the animals are anthropomorphized but with a sensibility that's more akin to Winnie the Pooh.

Directed by St├ęphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, the movement, the scenes and action pushes the sensibility between Winnie the Pooh and Aubier and Patar's previous animated feature A Town Called Panic (2009). There's just at moments a level and execution of humor that's very similar to that 2009, stop-motion farce, perhaps made more ridiculous by the frenetic and choppy behavior that was that movie's style, particularly with its use of toy figurines as the protagonists, a precursor to The Lego Movie but still besting it. This movie is less frenetic and choppy.

In the English dub, Mackenzie Foy voices Celestine, a mouse living in what looks like an orphanage with a bunch of other young or child-like mice. Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker voices Ernest, a bear living in a tiny house far out in the woods all by himself.

What's revealed is that bears and mice appear to be the only creatures on Earth or that inhabit this bifurcated society, which seems constructed like something out of a H.G. Wells novel. The bears live above ground in some early to mid-twentieth century society, whereas the mice live below ground in the sewers in a similar society, and never the twain shall mix.

In fact, in both societies, the adults teach their children to fear or loathe the other. The grown-up bears tell their cubs that mice are the worst. The grown-up mice tell their babies that bears are the worst. Each do so through bedtime stories or through propaganda on the streets. It's obvious a prejudice that may have been based on something real but now has long since passed.

Both societies also have a strange obsession with dentistry, the mice especially. The whole livelihood of mice are built on their teeth, or rather the teeth of others. As Celestine learns, the highest calling in the field of medicine is dentistry, which is the caring of other people's teeth.

Except, in a wacky twist, Celestine is told mice literally have built their society like houses and roads by gnawing with their teeth. However, mice teeth aren't enough. The mice have acquired stronger teeth from other animals to do it. The only other animals available are bears, so an entire industry has risen to get bear teeth.

Ernest is an aspiring musician, a one-man-band who panhandles on the streets. When he doesn't have enough money to buy food, he begs. When that's not enough, he rummages through trash cans. When that's not enough, he steals. For bears, candy is rather irresistible and Ernest does steal candy. Problem is that candy rots a bear's teeth.

Celestine is pushed to acquire bear teeth, but she'd rather draw pictures. She's an aspiring artist too, and happenstance throws her onto Ernest's path. Their relationship, as one can guess, is established as a result of the symbiotic nature that the mice world has created. What blossoms from that is not without its bumps, yet it's funny and it's beautifully sweet.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some scary moments.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.

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