AKA: Ernest et Celestine
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 79 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Zootopia, Over the Hedge, Kimba the White Lion, Eleanor’s Secret, An American Tail, Winnie the Pooh, Fantastic Mr. Fox
-The English dub was used during the review.
-Ernest and Celestine is based on a kid’s book series of the same name from Belgian author/watercolor painter Gabrielle Vincent (real name Monique Martin) which was released in the 80’s.
-This film won all the awards it was nominated for in the Magritte Awards in Belgium. They were for Best Film, Best Sound, and Best Director.
-The Denist was played in the English dub by William H. Macy. This wouldn’t be the first time he’s played a mouse since he voiced Lester (the title character’s father) from The Tale of Desperaux.
-Hey, Matrix fans! Did you know The Merovingian did the original French voice of Ernest?
Before I start this review, I have a little confession to make. I’m not a fan of movies or shows with anthropomorphic animals. You may find this to be weird since I’ve praised things like Kimba the White Lion, it’s sequel Jungle Emperor Leo, and to a much lesser extent Shamanic Princess despite there only being one talking animal in that anime series. I’m just not a fan of those kinds of characters most of the time. Watching this movie with the plans to review it was an Iridium Eye first: watching and reviewing a movie with no humans in it. I was quite cynical with this being another stupid movie with some quirky talking critters in it, but I have severely underestimated this film.
Ernest and Celestine takes place in a paracosm with two main animal groups: mice and bears. The mice live underground while the bears live on the surface while the both of them have their own functioning societies that’s fit for their respective species. There’s Celestine, who’s an orphan who’s training to be a dentist, but she often spends her time drawing or painting. On the flipside, there’s Ernest, who’s a financially struggling bear that is a musician and theatre enthusiast who’s trying to make ends’ meet with his creative projects. Both of them are seen as outcasts in their own societies. On one fateful day, Celestine goes to the surface to get bear teeth for her dental school so the mice can use pieces from said teeth as dental implants for their society. A family of bears freak out when they see her in their house as she gets a cub’s tooth (yes, mice are literally tooth fairies in this world), but ends up in the garbage before meeting a hungry Ernest the next morning. She convinces him not to eat her and Celestine breaks into a sweets shop so he can eat. To repay the favor later, Ernest agrees to steal a bunch of bear teeth for Celestine to bring down to the underground to fulfill her dental quota. Then, both of them get into severe legal trouble and escape their homes once a warrant is out for their arrest.
For starters, gets’ talk about the animation. It is simply gorgeous. The whole movie uses watercolors for the backgrounds and some of the character designs. It feels like a living watercolor painting and that’s saying nothing about the “winter song” scene where there’s only dancing colors for roughly a minute as the scene transitions from Winter to Spring. The artwork has a more minimalist approach compared to Eleanor’s Secret and Song of the Sea, but the more sparse nature works. The simplistic character designs have more life to them and the backgrounds really add to the atmosphere of the world in this film. There was a lot of effort done for the animation and scenery, so that gets two thumbs up from me.
Both of the title characters are quite likable and they have great chemistry together. The fact that they are both rejected by their societies for their aspirations is very relatable and believable for the both of them. Celestine is shown to be very intelligent and can think on her feet, but her unorthodox intellect and creative endeavors are frowned upon by the rest of the mice. With Ernest, he didn’t want to follow in his family’s footsteps with their careers and he is disowned by them when he wanted to be a musician and entertainer instead. The bear also tries to put a smile despite underlying sorrows like when he’s busking and sings a line about him losing a lot of weight, so he couldn’t get a date as he tries to play for food and money. That quote was funny, yet subtly tragic as it’s something only bear would lament about in this movie. I wanted to root for both of those characters for their dreams to come true and I saw a little bit of my personality with both of them, and I’m sure many others can find at least one thing in common with Ernest and/or Celestine. They are quite funny when they’re together like how Ernest initially rejects Celestine living with him, throws her out of the house only for her to reappear in seconds with how fast she is. I thought that was pretty funny. In the English dub, Forest Whittaker (Idi Amin from The Last King of Scotland, Saw Gerrera from Rogue One) and Mackenzie Foy (Renesme from the Twilight series) did a great job voicing these characters and they sounded like they had a lot of fun.
I will say that the world building is extremely creative. I’d say this gets close to the levels of Strings and Haibane Renmei in terms of how the societies are created and presented. The mice live in a subterranean setting, but it’s fully functional. They have several houses, buildings, and industrial complexes that are well-lit and maintained. The most impressive building is the dental school which has a bit of a futuristic tinge with the technology and architecture of that setting. Their world itself revolves around a mouse’s incisors with their ability to chew through anything and the city zoning is directly and indirectly based on that natural skill which explains why dentists are considered to be the cream of the crop in that society. With the bears, it looks more like a typical quaint upper-middle class city but things are bigger compared to the mices’ world. Their town is literally built on top of the mouse city. There’s also a big dental issue that affects the bears. In addition to mice coming up to grab teeth from as many pillows as they can find, there’s even a need for bears to get some dental implants provided by the mother bear who owns a cosmetic dental shop in town. Her husband runs the sweet shop which is right across the street from her business, so between the couple, they have a symbiotic relationship of the father rotting the other bears’ teeth before they go to her business to get their teeth fixed. A recurring theme between the two societies is that it’s “bears above and mice below” which has a classist and segregation metaphor that’s subtle yet brilliantly effective. There’s prejudice between the two groups because it’s a crime for a mouse to be caught in the bears’ city and vice versa. The mice fear bears and see them as voracious and brutish gluttons willing to devour scores of mice. Interestingly enough, the mice see themselves as smarter and more cultured than their ursine counterparts. The bears see the mice as pests and freak out if they see a mouse in the house. I was pleasantly shocked and surprised with how much depth there was to Ernest and Celestine.
Their friendship is based on common interests of being alone and rejected by animals of their own species which was very fascinating. While both of them did criminal acts in order to help each other out, they were nonviolent crimes. When both of them get caught (the mice catch Ernest while the bears catch Celestine), you can see the officers testing out mousetraps which strongly implies that they’re going to get the death penalty while they’re in the other animals’ cities. This was a great metaphor with how marginalized groups get tougher sentencing for committing crimes compared to character’s in their respective majority cultures. This is extremely timely given some of the things going on right now. I did find it funny, but a bit sad when some of the mice and bears in court are “forced” to be scared of Ernest and Celestine in paralleling scenes. One standout scene was when Celestine excoriates the bears in court when she talks about Ernest’s destitute nature. She says “You want him to starve to death despite how fat you [all] are?” to everyone in the room. This was loaded with fridge brilliance because it shows that even individuals in a privileged group can face tribulations while simultaneously hurting worse for the bears in the courtroom and it’s not just because they’re all naturally overweight animals. The main climax of the film in the courtrooms was really powerful and it shows that individuals shouldn’t be judged on what they are, but in a non-preachy way.
Ernest and Celestine does have some flaws though. The storyline with Leon the bear cub who’s the son of the sweet shop owner and the dentist gets dropped in the film. I think it would’ve been great to see Leon develop as a character since he’s not allowed to have sweets so he can have the best teeth around while being the heir apparent to both businesses once he grows up. I understand that Ernest and Celestine are the main focus of the film, but I wanted some insight into that character like him rebelling and/or trying to feel some kind of sympathy for Celestine. I also thought the explanation with the bears being afraid of mice was a bit odd. Granted, it makes perfect sense why a mouse would fear a bear, but I thought it was a bit shallow for the bears to be scared of mice despite being bigger and stronger animals. I guess they were trying to analog elements of humans dealing with mice as pests, but I felt that their side of prejudice could’ve been elaborated more. There was also a lack of development for the supporting mice characters. The dentist was the most interesting one with his cold and snarky attitude as he chastises Celestine, but he barely got any character development.
This French animated film was certainly better than I expected. The watercolor visuals are wonderful which was a nice touch to this film. The title characters are fun to watch and I wanted them to succeed and for their friendship to be shown as a great thing. The musical scoring was quirky and diverse with the usage of toy pianos, some light orchestration, and the occasional accordion. There are some powerful themes done in a family-friendly way, yet they are extremely effective in it’s subtlety and self-awareness. I wished some of the secondary characters would get some development though. Ernest and Celestine is a fantastic animated film that I wasn’t ashamed to watch let alone liking. I was amazed with this little animated film having so much depth and great writing in it.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you really like cartoon animal movies
Subtract 3 points if you want something more serious
-Excellent watercolor-based animation
-Very likable lead characters
-Ingenious usage of themes dealing with prejudice, classism, and racial profiling
-Lack of development for background characters
-The reasons for bears being afraid of mine was a bit flimsy
-Some backgrounds can be more sparse than others in the animation
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: This got a PG rating in the American release. Ernest does try to eat Celestine when they first meet, but luckily it doesn’t end up that way. Celestine at one point dares Ernest to kill her and she explains ways mice can die with certain traps and poisons in very descriptive detail. The implications of Ernest and Celestine being executed for their crimes on trumped up charges is quite disturbing even though kids wouldn’t get the ramifications of it despite the mousetrap test scene. Other than that, it’s a tame movie, but with better writing than most animated films.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.