Once you see Ernest and Celestine (opening today), you will understand why this French-Belgium animated beauty was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards. You may also wonder why it didn't win. A simple, clever, classic tale of friendship and tolerance, it just feels invigorating to experience a family-friendly work of animation not churned out by Disney or one of the other big Hollywood studios.
Celestine is a young mouse and Ernest a bear. The two form a bond of friendship when the outside world rejects such a relationship between species. Celestine is raised to believe that all bears are "big and bad" and that they eat mice any chance they get. Bears are taught to fear mice as pesky rodents who live underground and only surface to steal cubs' fallen-out-teeth while they sleep.
Light and breezy, the water-color animation helps bring the children's book in which it is based on, to life. There are funny moments of slapstick that will captivate young children, but there is also surprising depth that will mesmerize adults as well.
Both Ernest and Celestine are outcasts in their natural environments. They share in their loneliness. Although they open up to each other and take care of each other, they both experience nightmares when sleeping. This subtly suggests that even though they have risen above the ignorance and intolerance present in their given societies, there still exists a deeply ingrained fear in regards to the other's true motives.
That's not the sort of issues dealt with in your average "kids" movie.
As many animated features do, Ernest and Celestine quickly establishes an inventive world in which our characters live. The mice population fears bears, but they make a living with their teeth, needing them to gnaw their way through life, as mice are known to do. Bears live up above in a human-esque society complete with shops, streets, police and a court system. Teeth are also important to bears, as we meet a bear family where the dad runs a candy shop and the mom sells a wide variety of teeth. They plan to leave their cub son both businesses, one reliant on ruining teeth while the other restores them. A perfect economic model if there ever was one. With teeth being such a major part of both bear and mouse societies, it's no surprise that most mice are raised to become dentists.
Ernest and Celestine's secret friendship boils over when they commit a crime that we know they will both eventually have to pay for. It's these dark edges that differentiate this film from other easily digestible family films. All the while, things wrap up in ways you would expect them to given the target audience.
Ernest and Celestine is a hard film not to fall in love with.
Genre: Animated, Foreign, Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hours, 20 minutes, Rated PG
Sub-titled version and dubbed version featuring voices of : Forest Whitaker, Lambert Wilson, Lauren Bacall, Mackenzie Foy, Pauline Brunner, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Jeffrey Wright
Based on the book by Gabrielle Vincent
Directed by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner
Opens locally on Friday, April 25, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time