Despite mice being raised to fear bears, Celestine has always thought differently from the average mouse. In "Ernest & Celestine," tales of the big bad bear devouring helpless mice are used to inspire the younger generation as training and precautionary measures are enforced upon them as they grow older. Living in the sewers, mice travel above ground where the bears live to steal teeth from baby bears for replacement incisors to survive because a mouse will die without the use of both front teeth.
Even though the mice are encouraged to become dentists Celestine is more interested in the arts as she spends her time drawing and dreams of a kindhearted bear. In the bear world, most bears try to make an honest living but Ernest's calling as a dramatic actor and musician leads him astray as he has many run-ins with the law because of his defiant nature. Ernest and Celestine eventually cross paths and become friends despite their different worlds, but their time together eventually turns them into fugitives as the film raises the question of how far you're willing to go to be happy.
This is one of the most visually pleasing and unique animated experiences you could have in a long, long time. "Ernest & Celestine" is traditionally animated with soft color palettes that utilize water colors in exquisite fashion. Certain segments of the film seem to animate sounds rather than just the story similar to the Chuck Jones shorts "The Dot and The Line" or even "Now Hear This." The winter landscape sequence is what comes to mind, but even little things like the crawling of a piano as Celestine crawls up a building gives that impression, as well. The film begins with a terrifying story of a giant bear that enjoys eating young, innocent mice told by a ghastly older mouse in what looks like an orphanage. It's obviously used to keep the little runts in line, but Celestine is having none of it. She's not only calm, but curious and open to the fact that a bear could make his own decisions or even be friendly.
The film isn't necessarily dark at times, but it isn't afraid to cross that line either. The caretaker at the orphanage inherits a horrific alligator-like shadow with sharp teeth as she's telling the story of the big bad bear. However the film never loses its whimsical and ingenious nature. As Celestine attempts to collect teeth, she returns to the mouse world and you get a glimpse into this black market mouse underworld where they practice bear defense, sell dental floss and hot fondue, and exercise in old fashioned mouse traps. Supporting characters include a young bear who has just lost a baby tooth. His parents are his father who sells candy and his mother who sells replacement teeth across the street from her husband's candy shop. Naturally they forbid their son to eat candy.
Other than the value of friendship, "Ernest & Celestine" has a pretty heavy message that involves following your own desires and going down your own path even when it seems like those you know and love have already set that journey in stone. Let your calling in life be yours and yours alone. It's not anyone else's call to make. The dream sequences are extraordinary like Celestine's sea of mice dream and Ernest's dream about sweets. The film has a way of not only capturing your attention, but also clutches onto your imagination from beginning to end.
"Little Bear" was a huge part of my childhood. While the animated series on Nick Jr was watched from time to time, the children's book by Else Homelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak made a bigger impact. "Ernest & Celestine" taps into those feelings I had while reading "Little Bear" or having it read to me as a child and yet it's adult enough to cater to any age. "Ernest & Celestine" is a magnificent, creative, and visionary piece of work that is heartwarming, magical, and just a fantastic cinematic journey that will be forever timeless.