Monday, June 30, 2014

REVIEW: Ernest & Celestine


Over the weekend I finally watched the heartwarming 2012 Oscar nominated French-Belgian animated film Ernest & Celestine. It was just released on DVD, and WOW was it worth the wait! The gorgeous animation, smart, inventive storytelling and themes of friendship and tolerance make this endearing film a must see!

Ernest & Celestine: the oddest couple
Based on Belgian author Gabrielle Vincent's books, this animation harks back to a time of beautifully hand-drawn films to entrance children and adults alike, Tuesday 23 April 2013 04.52 EDT

Celestine the mouse and Ernest the bear in a delightful new French animation about friendship and tolerance. 
Photograph: PR

Animated children's films have taken the box office by storm since Pixar's Toy Story heralded the CGI revolution in 1995. Ernest & Celestine harks back to an earlier time when hand-drawn artists ruled the industry and commercial imperatives were less strident. If Hollywood doesn't make them like this any more, it comes as a relief to discover that the French still do.

Stories of parallel societies existing almost entirely separately have always proved popular with children, from Mary Norton's The Borrowers to JK Rowling's Harry Potter. Usually it is mankind that is blissfully unaware of "the others" living beneath their floorboards or in dreams. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner's charming hand-drawn animation Ernest & Celestine, by contrast, imagines a world where anthropomorphic mice live below ground and bears above it (while humans are nowhere to be seen).

In this whimsical upstairs-downstairs contrivance each society lives in fear of the other. Mice are taught that the creatures living above their heads are inherently evil, and youngsters are shooed under the covers with tales of the nefarious big bad bear. Bears, naturally, have just as poor an opinion of their scurrying subterranean counterparts and usually try to kill them on sight. Only one crucial apex brings these two very different species reluctantly together. Mice need the milk teeth discarded by bear children to replace their own worn-out gnashers, so rodent adventurers are sent above ground to pose as tooth fairies and bring back vital molars. A relationship of sorts has emerged, though neither side would ever admit it.

Into this vortex of antipathy are thrown Ernest, a struggling bear musician who finds himself penniless and starving when his one-man-band equipment is confiscated by the police, and Celestine, a thoughtful, fanciful mouse who refuses to accept rampant anti-bear prejudices. Once she has convinced her hungry new pal not to eat her, the tiny rodent finds him a cellar full of goodies to gorge upon, and an unexpected friendship is born.

Finding themselves on the extreme margins of their respective societies, this ultimate of odd couples soon joins together in search of a more co-operative existence. But their behaviour draws dislike from on high, and both figures find themselves on trial in courthouses above and beneath the surface. Of course, the similarity of the processes used to bring each to justice smartly exposes the ridiculousness of their mutual disdain.

Ernest & Celestine beautifully satirises the often-preposterous nature of entrenched attitudes in a way which will resonate naturally with children, who are almost always more open-minded than their elders. Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, who wrote the series of books upon which the film is based, has created a hearty and rambunctious story that celebrates liberal-mindedness and teases the pinched and petty prejudices of wider society. There is something Dahlesque (and more than a little Dickensian) about the film's rude and rowdy temperament, while the subtle hand-drawn artwork brings to mind Cosgrove Hall's wonderful BFG TV movie from 1989. Ernest (Lambert Wilson) and Celestine (Pauline Brunner) are delightfully drawn and rendered, memorable long after the final credits have rolled, in stark contrast to many 
of their contemporaries.


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