Finally, we end our Février Francais (French February) with another animated feature that I stumbled across while looking through some old magazines. Upon looking at a few screenshots and the trailer, that was enough to merit a purchase. Here is Ernest & Celestine.
Based on the children’s book series of the same name by Belgian writer (and artist), Gabrielle Vincent, Ernest and Celestine happens in a nostalgic french fantasy world where Bears live like humans on the surface and mice live in an underground city. Our Tale revolves around two characters: Ernest, a bear who lives on the outskirts of town and tries to feed himself by busking as a one-man-band. And Celestine, a mouse pup living at (what looks like) an orphanage, as a student for the largest industry in this movie – Dentistry. Her job is simple – collect bear teeth and not get caught. Because in this film, teeth are a form of currency. They are ‘life’ for the Mice because, without them, they starve, and their top jobs are dentists. On the first night in this journey, Celestine tries to rob a bear cub of a baby tooth (because “the mouse fairy” is the tooth fairy in this film), only to nearly get caught and fall into the bin outside and have a pile of trash placed on top, trapping her. The next morning, Ernest is looking for food. Anything he could eat. He lifts the trash pile to find Celestine, and much like any hungry Bear decides that she’ll make a good meal. But when Celestine wakes up and negotiates with him, the rest of the film becomes a collection of favours and an unlikely friendship between partners in crime.
Now to determine the teeth and the marshmallows in this flick:
The Art Style and animation are incredible. A spectacle, within the context of it as an animated film rather than the book. I was not aware that this was a children’s book series (There’s only so much french material you can witness as a child outside of French-speaking countries in a pre-internet age). But based on what I’ve seen of the books, it appears the film captured the essence of them beautifully, even if the character design choices allowed the animators to work more quickly and efficiently. The film uses much fewer frames per second compared to a lot of other animated features. But with this, you get a whole lot of oomph. Lots of smacks and bangs in the physical comedy. The kind of movement that would be too dangerous to replicate in real life. Present in an episode or movie of Lupin The Third or Tom and Jerry. The linework is minimalist, with lines usually not connecting, which allows them to be fluid in movement. The colouring-in is all watercolours or gouache and in what I could best describe as a combination between french children’s cartoons and old-school anime from the ’70s and ’80s, with a pinch of Isao Takahata’s film My Neighbours The Yamadas. And you know what? I love it. I absolutely love it.
The voice acting is excellent, with every voice matching every design. Much like my experience of April and The Extraordinary World, I only saw this in French with English subtitles. There is an English voiceover of Ernest and Celestine, but again, probably in the blu-ray release. They got Forrest Whitaker to voice Ernest, which was bound to be great.
The Characters, especially Ernest and Celestine themselves, are very likeable and well told. They are more developed in the books, but we receive an excellent display of who they are within the seventy-six minutes that they occupy our screen. Their wants are simple – they are hungry, lonely, and desire to live off their art, and in this sense, we see something lovely and relatable.
The story and the themes have various factors. How the relationship between the bears and the mice is strained by the tales they tell each other. Along with the prejudices they hold in the process. We can also argue the possible class system, with the high and mighty bears being above the mice trying to survive. Another story told is one about Artists. Artists surviving in a world that wants them to be anything but what they’re striving to do. Both Ernest and Celestine are the equivalent of an artist community coming together to accomplish something that the world needs but perhaps doesn’t realize yet.
The Music by Vincent Courtois is closer to being easy-listening for children while being adorable enough to be embraced by an adult who is a child at heart, rather than music to go beyond the story it’s telling. So you might work along to it as a Homework Edit, but you have to love it to play it while out of the house – and trust me when I say that it is doable. It’s very French and an endearing listen.
Would I recommend Ernest and Celestine? Absolutely! It’s beautiful to look at, it’s funny, it’s well written, charming, and can be watched by anybody, even though it is a children’s film. It may also do for you what it did for me – allow me to find another author/illustrator to draw inspiration from, in this case, Gabrielle Vincent, the original author of the books. I got the Ernest & Celestine Christmas Book on kindle because of this film, and I hope to share it with my niece when she herself starts to read. So go watch it for yourself. It’ll be worth it.
Art Style: *****
Voice Acting: ****1/2