Ernest & Celestine

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Ernest & Celestine
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

The world is divided in two parts. Above, on the surface, is the home of the bears while beneath lives the rodent population. These two groups have lived in hate and fear of each other, except for one young mouse, a dental student who dreams of being an artist. When she meets a traveling one bear band, the world will change forever because of the friendship between “Ernest & Celestine.”

As long as anyone can remember, the bears and the rodents have always been devout enemies and they keep their two worlds apart. Celestine, though, is a forward thinking little mouse who dares to go against the rules, especially when it comes to having to listen to the orphanage’s matron, the Gray One, tell the story about the Big Bad Bear. The young mouse will have none of it and, against the rules, goes to the surface to see how the other half lives only to get trapped in a trash can.

Ernest has just come out of hibernation and he is hungry! He dons his drums, cymbals and the rest of his band kit and heads out to find food. Instead, he finds little Celestine who, if he does not eat her, promises to show Ernest where he can have all the food he wants and leads him to a candy store. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship as musician Ernest and budding artist Celestine find their kindred spirits.

“Ernest & Celestine” is a charming animated feature that is about tolerance, understanding and, most of all, the power of friendship. Collaborating directors – Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner – give their film an old-fashioned look with bright water colors and simple drawing. The effect is like you are seeing a movie from the 1950s and 60s. This works well with the story of friendship between a bear and a mouse. I give it an A-.

In an underground orphanage, little female mice are visited at bedtime by The Grey One (voice of Anne-Marie Loop) who terrifies them with tales of the above ground bears whose only goal is to eat them.  There's one who challenges these stories until her own experience almost proves them true, but the little artistic dreamer finds a common bond between rodent and predator in "Ernest & Celestine."

This Belgian/French coproduction from the Gabrielle Vincent books enchants from its very first frame. Animated in pastel water colors that glow from within, the film's visual style is sweet and comforting, deceptively simple, while its story (adapted by Deniel Pennac) is a delightfully twisted take on friendship and tooth fairies.

Ernest (voice of Lambert Wilson, "Of Gods and Men") awakens hungry from his slumber in a ramshackle cabin in the snow.  After losing his last crumbs to some enterprising songbirds, he tricks himself up as a one-bear-band to busk (illegally) for food.  Meanwhile, little Celestine (voice of Pauline Brunner) has been sent with her classmates to gather bear cub teeth left under pillows, to restock the offices of rodent dentists.  When she's spotted, she must flee, and ends up in a lidded garbage can, where Ernest, scavenging for food, finds her, a tasty morsel!  Celestine's a quick thinker though, and she leads the big bear to the basement of a candy shop where he blisses out.  In order to fill her demanded quota of fifty teeth, Celestine persuades the big bear to rob an ursine tooth shop, but their second heist brands them wanted by the law.

Teeth (and to a lesser degree, sweets) are a constant motif throughout this odd little fairy tale, from the moment the Grey's front fang drops into her tea (sound goes all weirdly underwater as we follow its POV), distorting her speech.  The theme is unlikely friendship, the two 'criminals' finding themselves on trial as much for their partnership as their crimes.  But it's the old fashioned hand drawn animation that's the real hook here.  We even enter the story through a drawing of Celestine's and animation constantly shimmers, backgrounds morphing from nothingness into fully realized rooms and landscapes.  The rat police undulate as one mass, swirling around sewers.  A chase scene features a not-quite-pink and blue van, like something out of a nursery, and when the more brightly colored one turns giveaway, Ernest paints it right into the landscape, them bumps into it to remind us that it is there!

It's bracing that these two unlikely friends start as real foes.  When it's time to say good-night, the filmmakers leave us as they began, Celestine drawing as Ernest reimagines their beginning, making it suitable for a child's bedtime story.  "Ernest & Celestine" is as unique and delicate as an antique Valentine.

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