A bear (Ernest) and a mouse (Celestine) form a forbidden friendship and become outlaws in the process.
It’s so cuuuuuuute! A Belgian animation film that’s very cute and touching. With a simple hand-drawing watercolour style, Ernest et Celestine tells the story of a bear and a mouse who live together and look out for each other. It’s refreshing to see a hand-drawn animation in this time of 3D models. Hollywood seems to have given up on hand-drawn movies, but Ernest et Celestine’s Oscar nomination for best animation shows that people still admire it (it lost to Frozen, though. Damn you, Frozen!).
Celestine is a mouse, and the film opens with her growing up in an orphanage. There, she hears stories of how terrible bears are, but she believes that bears and mice can be friends. She grows up to become some sort of tooth fairy for the bears who live in town. Then we move to Ernest, a bear who just got out of hibernation and wakes up with a cold. It’s funny how the movie has been dubbed in English (Ernest voiced by Forest Whitaker), but when Ernest yells, you still hear the swallowed French words and lilt.
The story is based on a children’s book written and illustrated by the Belgian artist Gabrielle Vincent. In Walloon, I have seen exhibits of her watercolour paintings, and the story seems to occupy that same niche in Belgium that Paddington bear does in England. The story revolves all around teeth, because the mice need their incisors for their rodent civilization, and bear teeth make for the best replacements.
The drawing style is magnificent, very fluid as if the characters move on paper, and in exactly the same style as the original watercolours. There is always a ruckus happening with the bears as they work themselves up in a fit, and their facial expressions are funny. The film in general is just very easy on the eyes with soft colours and fluid motions.
At the heart of the story is of course the connection between the bear and the mouse, and the different worlds they represent. Not only are all the mice afraid of the bears, making Celestine’s feelings scandalous, but Celestine and Ernest are so different in character. Celestine, as a little mouse, has this soft, girly, childlike vulnerability that is a counterpoint to the big, rough and boisterous Ernest. Both are cute characters in their own way, and together they make a good team.
It’s about prejudice too. A tired old morality tale, but it is brought very well. At one point, Ernest and Celestine are chased by both the bear police and the rodent police, and for a moment, both police forces are unaware of it, until mutual distrust suddenly kicks in like lightning. The bear and the mouse also need to fight before they accept each other. The climax and conclusion is a great play of contrast and symmetry between the bear and mouse societies.
This may be the cutest film I have ever seen. I would recommend it for all ages, and especially to those who like drawing and painting.