Ernest & Celestine (2012)
Director: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Lambert Wilson, Pauline Brunner
Plot: The story of an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest, and a young mouse named Celestine.
Genre: Animation / Comedy / Drama
Awards: Won SACD Prize (Cannes). Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Animated Feature.
Rating: PG for some scary moments.
International Sales: Tamasa Distribution
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: MILD)
Whenever a foreign language animated feature gets nominated for an Oscar, it gets an exponential increase in interest and curiosity. Ernest & Celestine is a simple, beautifully-drawn French animated offering that should benefit from this. While it is nowhere close to the near-masterpiece that is Sylvain Chomet's almost dialogue-free The Illusionist (2010), this story about a bear and a mouse is endearing at best, and resonates in a predictable, heartwarming way.
The story centering on two main characters, who are different from each other physically (sometimes mentally) yet retain similar values or expectations in life, is a staple in animation. One needs the other to survive, to exist, to entertain. Think of the loony scheming of ‘Tom & Jerry’, or the dark animated work that is Mary and Max (2009), and even to some extent, Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King (1994), to name a few.
Ernest & Celestine, while not immediately iconic as characters or as a movie, draws on influences of the past. Its watercolour, vaguely-detailed animation style recalls the likes of The Secret of Kells (2009) or some of the scenes in Isao Takahata's early works like Only Yesterday (1991). There is something attractive about a bear and a mouse who live together – one huge, one small; one regrettably clumsy, the other vulnerable.
Legend has it that bears eat mice, fears propagated by an old mouse tending to young, orphaned mice. Celestine, a young mouse, refuses to believe, and when by chance she encounters Ernest the bear, it is the start of an unlikely friendship that is threatened to be broken by prejudiced bears and mice living comfortably in their own worlds.
We fear the other because we don't understand the other. We sometimes claim to understand the other, yet the fear remains. That is merely a false reconciliation. Despite being a family movie, Ernest & Celestine may contain some subtext on homosexuality, though that I believe is without intent by the filmmakers. Even if Ernest and Celestine are of a different gender, they may be treated as symbolic of the plight of homosexuals in homophobic societies. Their relationship is opposed, even condemned.
It is no surprise that the climax of the film is coincidentally situated in the court of justice. The law prohibits homosexual relations, but I leave you to see the film's resolution to draw your own conclusions. Sometimes it is enriching (or just plain fun) to overanalyze a film that is as uncomplicated and pure as Ernest & Celestine.
Verdict: A simple, beautifully-drawn French animated offering with a decent blend of humour and heart.
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