Everyone knows a mouse and a bear cannot be friends. Or can they? Based on the children’s books of the same name, Ernest & Celestine is a lovely tale of what friendship and understanding truly means. Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) is a tiny mouse living beneath the streets in France, forced to steal teeth from the bears living above ground in order to help her fellow mice keep their incisors (apparently the one thing giving them a leg up on the bears) sharp and reliable. But things are not all easy above ground, either, as “big, monstrous” bear Ernest (voiced by Lambert Wilson) has fallen on hard times and just wants something to eat.
After her attempt to steal a newly lost tooth goes terribly wrong, Celestine finds herself trapped in a trash bin until Ernest finds her during his quest for food. While Celestine seems like a tasty treat to Ernest at first, she convinces him she knows where he can get a lot more (and a lot tastier) food, a favor she later calls upon when she needs Ernest’s help. Ernest may end up with a full belly and Celestine a full bag of teeth, but when it is revealed the two worked together to help each other, they are both run out of town.
Brunner’s vocal work as Celestine give the mouse a true sense of innocence and fear while Wilson’s big and brash vocals make Ernest her polar opposite. When this unlikely pair is forced to rely on each other the friendship that develops is both sweet and revealing, teaching audiences how to look past obvious differences and learn who a person truly is, without ever preaching the message.
The simple, pencil animation of Ernest 7 Celestine is engaging and feels like a child’s imagination brought to life – it’s never overly complicated yet is constantly changing and malleable. The film creates memorable visuals through the use of shadows that show how, especially through a child’s eyes, the simple trick of the light can reveal much more. One of the film’s best moments comes after Ernest and Celestine discover they are both driven by their creative passions, Ernest as a musician and Celestine as an artist, and what follows is a beautiful sequence that combines Celestine’s art with Ernest’s music, working as a visual representation of their budding friendship as seen through gorgeous animation.
While the story presents a cute play on the idea of the tooth fairy, some of the scenes in the mouse’s dentist’s office, while funny to adults, may be unsettling to children. Most of the time the twisting and turning of the teeth seems commonplace, but some of the grating sounds and scared faces in the office could come across as unnecessarily frightening.
Daniel Pennac successfully adapts Gabrielle Vincent’s book series into a film that never feels verbose while still showcasing the changes in Ernest and Celestine, not only as friends but also as individuals. The shy, fearful Celestine becomes more confident with a comforting presence like Ernest by her side, while the selfish, angry Ernest becomes softer and more loving with Celestine brightening his days with her childlike wonder.
Vincent Courtois’s score is jaunty and fun, and although the film is subtitled, directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner keep Ernest and Celestine visually stimulating, which should entertain both children and adults alike.
The Upside: Beautiful animation and music; dynamic performances; an important message delivered through a sweet and entertaining narrative.
The Downside: Few scenes dealing with teeth and a dentist could be considered unsettling for kids; inability to read subtitles may turn off some younger viewers.
On the Side: Ernest and Celestine will be released in the US this October.