Ernest & Celestine is ambitious in parts and lazy in others. Though visually striking, the characters felt two-dimensional and the plot – in particular the resolution – thin. It may be a movie meant for children, yet, in the context of Pixar and movies such How to Train Your Dragon and most recently The Lego Movie, that excuse for lack of depth in such a context is flatly invalid.
Following an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest (voiced by Forrest Whitaker), and a mouse, Celestine (voiced by Mackenzie Foy), Ernest & Celestine attempts to impart the message that one should not judge a book by its cover. However, this message seems to crack at the seams under the weight of its oafish, yet lovable – though mostly oafish – bear of a protagonist.
Ernest & Celestine takes places in modern France save people, who are now bears. The mice make up the underclass (perhaps the Algerians). The bears occupy the surface, the mice the sewers. Each vilify the other despite only having, at best, chance encounters to base their opinions upon. Furthermore, most of these encounters consist almost entirely of either running from or trying to kill the other; certainly not trying to get to know one another.
Even though their groups are in such opposition, Ernest and Celestine inhabit very similar realms within their respective societies. They each occupy the periphery, as their aspirations do not seem in line with those of their peers. Over the course of the film, it is this fact that brings the two of them together as they slowly come to help each other get by in a harsh, unforgiving world.
By helping each other, the two become wanted criminals. The resolution takes place in parallel court room scenes: Ernest being tried by the mice, Celestine by the bears. When all is said and done, the resolution feels weak and, at times, even forced. The message is good – one of the dangers of prejudice – though it has been told before and more completely.
Plot-related shortcomings aside, the film achieves what it was meant to. Namely, it adequately provides a backdrop upon which to display the true achievement of the film; the animation style. Even though I have seen films that utilize a similar, seemingly-unfinished style, none quite feel as complete as Ernest & Celestine. The plot is simple enough for a child to follow, while delivering a worthwhile didactic message, and the animation plays to both children and their parents.
The version of this film that was recently released stateside is dubbed with American actors. It should be said that I am not a fan of dubbed foreign films, independent of any lip-mismatching that is bound to result. I believe there is a poetry to the native language that is present – whether intentional or not – that is lost whenever studios try to pander to audiences. Moreover, a good screenwriter does not just take into account the meaning of the words being said but also the sound – and, if done properly, the harmony – they make. However, I was not able to write on such a subject as I only had the watered-down version to go off of.
All things considered, Ernest & Celestine is a solid film that can be enjoyed by both children and adults – even without the presence of the former. The subject-matter is light and the film works very well for a short, date-type movie. Yet, it would have served this purpose more fully had it not been dubbed. Regardless, it was worth the admission price as it served as a worthy respite from either the explosions of action/comic book films or the heavy-handed, rain-drenched scenes where one character decries his/her love for another that has become typical of the modern romance film. It surprised me – in a good way. Though it could have been better, it is certainly worth your time. 5/10
by Jeff Bernstein '15
artwork by Melkorka Tómásdottir '17