Review: 'Ernest et Célestine' ['Ernest & Celestine']
Ernest et Célestine (Ernest & Celestine) is a 2012 children's animated film from Europe about a friendship between a mouse and a bear. It hasn't had a widespread English-language release in North America yet, but when it does, I recommend it. It's charming! (Trailer, with English subtitles.)
The two main characters exist in different worlds, and are both victims of circumstance. Ernest, the bear, is a musician who lives alone in a cabin in the forest outside a large town, an outsider. If not for the cabin, he'd be homeless; he runs out of food during the winter and must resort to busking and begging, and eventually theft, because busking is forbidden and his musical instruments are taken away.
Célestine, the mouse, lives in a hidden underground mouse-world beneath the town. Her society is built upon anti-bear propaganda, and relies on all mice having a functional pair of incisors. (Even losing a front tooth makes it difficult to talk.)
As an orphan, Célestine's fate has been chosen: her job, along with the other orphans, is to sneak into the town and steal the teeth that bear cubs leave under their pillows, so that mouse dentists can re-purpose them for rodential use. This is a parody of the legend of La petite souris (The little mouse), the French equivalent of The Tooth Fairy.
Célestine doesn't understand why bears have to be the enemies of mice, and after an unsuccessful mission she ends up trapped in a garbage can, where a starving Ernest discovers her. To bears, mice are a pest, and he's desperate enough to try eating her; only her active personality and quick wit convinces him to instead rob the local candy shop, and eventually he helps bring a huge bag of teeth back to her home.
Of course, bears aren't supposed to befriend mice or vice-versa, so their activities create quite a calamity, made worse by the amount of collateral damage Ernest leaves in his wake. Inwardly he's a nice guy, but he's not a fast thinker, is short on patience, and tends to resort to brute-force methods to solve his immediate problems. Once on the run, they essentially become public enemy number one.
That may seem rather extreme and silly, but remember this is a kid's film - the adults are depicted as part of a grumpy, inflexible, rule-obsessed Establishment, and woe to anyone who doesn't fit into societal expectations. Still, both Ernest and Celestine have been treated pretty shabbily and are qutie content to buck the system, and their friendship grows as winter passes into spring. Things get darker after the law catches up with them, but no worries; there's a happy ending.
I really liked this film. It doesn't rush itself, it takes opportunities for slower, introspective moments as well as fast-paced, action-filled ones. It's absolutely littered with funny little moments, yet also gets dark and serious when it needs to be, which isn't too often. I also thought the visual design was really interesting. In most 2D animated films, you have very artistic backgrounds with more simply-drawn characters imposed upon them. In this movie, both the foreground and the background blend perfectly - and they managed to do it while making everything look like it was done in watercolors. Great job!
In France, Ernest et Célestine did very well at the box office, especially considering it was up against The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Directed by Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (two of whom also directed A Town called Panic, which I reviewed earlier), this film was written by Daniel Pennac, based on a series of children's books by Gabrielle Vincent, which I have not read. The run-time is about 78 minutes.
So yep, overall it's definitely worth a watch if you don't mind it being aimed at a younger audience (and as long as you aren't terrified of dentists). It's entertaining, full of simple fun, delightfully written and animated. Here's hoping a good English version comes our way soon! Gkids apparently has North American distribution rights, at least on the film festival circuit; hopefully a DVD will follow. And in the UK, as of May 27 there should be a French DVD available with English subtitles.