Ernest and Celestine is a trifle, though it is certainly an enjoyable trifle. It's refreshing to see a hand drawn film like this go up against heavyweights like Frozen and Despicable Me 2 in the animated film category of the Oscars. This French film breaks no new ground in its story or its animation, but it is lovely to look at with likeable characters and a heartfelt story.
In a country that looks suspiciously like France, there seem to be just two species: mice and bears. The mice live in a tiny underground city where the mouse children are taught to be afraid of the bears, because they love to eat mice. The bears live in the world above and are in turn terrified of mice. Celestine (voice of Mackenzie Foy) is a mouse living in an orphanage who doesn't subscribe to the notion that bears and mice have to be enemies; she even draws pictures showing herself sitting comfortably in a bear's paw. Ernest (voice of Forest Whitaker) is a bear who, after waking up from hibernating in his remote cabin, comes to the city to beg for food. A series of unfortunate events lead Ernest and Celestine to run afoul of the law and join forces. Although Ernest at first wants to eat Celestine they soon begin a tenuous friendship.
The friendship between the bear and the mouse is exceedingly sweet, helped in no small part by the voice actors. I only have the English version to go on, but the leads do an excellent job. Forest Whitaker makes Ernest gruff and loveable, and Mackenzie Foy is irresistibly precocious. A number of other big names fill out the cast, including Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti and William H. Macy. Giamatti and Macy both lose themselves in their roles, making their voices almost unrecognizable. As a whole it's some of the best voice over ensemble in a long while.
The story is just off kilter and original enough to be entertaining, and quite bizarre, and involves the mice stealing teeth from the bears to keep their civilization going. Explanations won't do it justice, but it actually works. The animation is lovely and the relationship between Ernest and Celestine is sweet. It's a nice antidote to most of the regurgitated swill that passes for animated features these days.