'Ernest & Celestine'
Directors: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner
Voices of: Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy
3 (out of 5) Globes
The French-Belgian animated film “Ernest & Celestine” is about the friendship between a giant bear and a tiny mouse. But it’s not what you think. It’s an extremely loopy production, even as it radiates a powerful, soothing retro warmth. It’s hand-drawn, in squiggly, imperfect lines on white backgrounds that aren’t always completely filled in. This makes it look like an old children’s book tucked away in a box in your parents’ basement.
And yet no old children’s book is this weird. It starts with little Celestine being warned by a stern headmistress about the ravenous hunger of bears. As she snarls on, her shadow takes on the appearance of a grotesque beast, matching her tone. Typical of the film’s invention and mordant sense of humor, it then cuts to Ernest, a hulking bear who really is dangerously hungry. Luckily he’s bad at being bad. He’s a penniless artist who has to sing, with a full-on one-man-band get-up, for morsels in the town square.
Celestine too is an artist, whose drawings, she hopes, will take her away from dental school. Turns out bears, who live up top, and mice, stuck under ground, are engaged in a Cold War. The mice go up to the surface only to take the baby teeth of cubs, which they use to replace their own broken pearly whites. When Celestine meets Ernest, she’s on her rounds. But he doesn’t eat her, because she’s very good, even at her young age, at calmly but forcibly talking her way out of predicaments. They join forces because they need eachother: He requires food and she a bag of teeth, and the other can give them what they want.
The rest of “Ernest & Celestine” proceeds in this familiar but eccentric fashion. Based on Gabriel Vincent’s books, it offers the usual slowly dawning friendship and the expected lessons, this one about tolerance and two species forced, by belated necessity, to overcome bigotry.But these tropes are slathered in peanut butter, as you would pills for a dog. It’s both charmingly French (or French-Belgian) and incorrigibly bizarre. Filmmakers Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar previously made the incessantly offbeat “A Town Called Panic,” which was animated with stop-motion action figures (like a cowboy, Indian and horse) who got into increasingly surreal misadventures. “Ernest & Celestine” is more sober than that, but it retains just enough of the weird to make one wish for plenty of sequels.
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