Of mice and bears

Celestine and Ernest

Celestine the mouse lives in the underground world of rodents. Above ground lurk the scare bears. Ah, here it comes – Romeo and Juliet, Westside Story – now with added fur. 

This French-Belgium animated movie is based on a series of children's books of the same name, published by the Belgian watercolor illustrator and author, Gabrielle Vincent. It was selected for viewing in the Director's Fortnight section of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and it won a French César Award for best animated movie in 2013.

Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) lives in an underground orphanage with other mice. The mice are all terrified of the bears who live above. The mouse who guards the orphanage (voiced by Anne-Marie Loop) scarily tells Celestine and the other mice about the evil nature of bears that live in the outside world: they eat mice and must at all times be avoided.

Dentistry is a discipline we are told that all mice must study. For their assignment in dentistry, Celestine and the other mice travel to the world outside in search of the lost teeth of bear cubs that lie hidden under their pillows, while they wait for money from the tooth fairy. Teeth are necessary for mice, who are missing what they should have.

Celestine is caught in the act of thieving a young bear's tooth, and is chased by the cub's family into a nearby rubbish bin. There, she spends the night in fear. In the morning, Ernest (voiced by Lambert Wilson), a starving and surly bear who lives in the hills outside the town, lifts up the lid of the rubbish bin and finds her, and tries to eat her. Celestine convinces him otherwise, and leads him to a cellar full of food. An unlikely bond immediately forms between them.

Not everyone is appreciative of how Celestine and Ernest feel toward each other - a large bear is not usually regarded in the world outside as friendly to a young mouse. Celestine's community of mice, and Ernest's community of bears don't really understand their friendship, and give them both a difficult time. One problem situation occurs after another, and though Celestine and Ernest help each other, they mostly get into trouble for doing so.

This is a lovely film that is highly suitable for viewing by both children and adults. The story is simple, and the film conveys marvellously the essence of friendship. Its uplifting messages are crystal-clear, and the animation behind them is wonderful. The imagery of the film is extraordinarily inventive. A car being painted disappears into the colour of the countryside, and the images in Celestine's drawings start to dance to the music being made by Ernest.

The film celebrates friendship in an extraordinarily positive way. The colour of its images is gloriously toned and visually arresting, and the film's commentary addresses the need to reject prejudice and to accept the differences that exist between people. The friendship between Ernest and Celestine eventually stops the warring between their communities. The messages contained in the movie transcend culture and language, and the expert animation of the film, done in the style of illustrator-drawings, helps to achieve what it wants to say in ways that many feature films do not.

The film's messages are also delivered poignantly. The voices of Celestine and Ernest capture Celestine's innocence and Ernest's brashness very well, and the film uses music (Ernest is a musician bear) to express the unusual bonding between them. Over time, Celestine grows in confidence because of her friendship with Ernest, and Ernest becomes softer as Celestine affects his life by making him much less surly and more gentle when she is with him.

This film is a delight to experience. Its important messages are communicated sweetly, movingly, and entertainingly. And the quality of its inventive imagery is outstanding.

- By Peter W Sheehan, associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Ernest & Celestine, starring (by voice): Lambert Wilson, Pauline Brunner, and Anne-Marie Loop. Directed by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner. Rated PG (Mild themes). 79 min. Rialto Films.
Released on Thursday, June 19.

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