‘Ernest and Celestine’ Review
There are two chief takeaways from 'Ernest & Celestine.' The first is that in France and Belgium they don't have a Tooth Fairy, they have La Petite Souris, which is, basically, “The Tooth Mouse.” I also learned that when the story is funny, the characters are well-rounded and the world is imaginative, a modestly budgeted hand-drawn animated film can still have just as much effect as a big, blown-out computer generated affair.
Below the streets, in a complex maze of pipes and gears, lives a society of mice. They are taught since childhood to avoid nasty bears, who only want to eat them. Ironically, a key foundation of their society is reliant on the supply of new bear teeth. This is because for the little mouse kingdom to grow, the soil needs to be chewed, so mice frequently lose/wear down their own teeth.
So every mouse, or, at least, every orphan mouse, must go up to the surface, to a quaint French village occupied by very human-like bears, and steal teeth. While parent bears tell their kids about La Petite Souris, this is clearly a fairy tale, as they all tend to go ballistic when they see a mouse in the flesh.
Celestine, a thoughtful girl mouse who likes to draw, is the one who will bring these two communities together. But she's going to need help. Her partner in detente is Ernest, a clumsy and somewhat dyspeptic bear who lives alone in a crumbling shack. He, too, has artistic aspirations – he wants to be an actor, and makes what little money he can by performing in an elaborate one-man-band contraption and begging for change.
He isn't too successful at that, so frequently turns to dumpster diving. That's where he meets Celestine, hiding out in the trash after a failed tooth raid. She convinces him not to eat her, and the pair begin something of a Bonnie & Clyde relationship. He steals sweets, she steals teeth. It's adorable.
'Ernest & Celestine' is very funny and very antic (the Belgian filmmakers also made the high energy 'A Town Called Panic') and is genuine enough that it's hard to mind that the movie basically promotes theft. Its call to end prejudice is enough of a “good lesson” to make this safe for kids. And kids who aren't so steamrolled by 3D Pixar-brand animation ought to be dazzled by the clever animation.
The distributor of 'Ernest & Celestine' is making it available in theaters in its original French with subtitles and dubbed into English. I figured I was already watching a movie about a petite jeune rodent, I might as well go all the way and watch it in French. The exaggerated Gallic pronunciations ought to delight any Francophile (little Celestine is adorable shouting “Ouuuuuuuuuui!”) but the Anglo version's inclusion of Forest Whitaker as the big, grumpy bear, plus William H. Macy, Paul Giamatti and Lauren Bacall rounding out the cast has its own natural draw.
'Frozen' beat 'Ernest & Celestine' at the Oscars for Best Animated Picture. I'm not about to diss the winner – it's a great movie – but this is one that's worth checking out as well.
'Ernest and Celestine' is now playing in select theaters.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.