I received some nice notes from parents who enjoyed watching my recommendation A Cat in Paris with their kids (as well as from some non-parents who enjoyed it just for themselves). So I return this week to the same terrain with another absolutely charming French-language animated film that was re-dubbed for American audiences: Ernest & Célestine (French/Belgian title Ernest et Celestine).
Based on the popular illustrated children’s books by Gabrielle Vincent, the film relates the tale of two communities that fear and distrust each other. Above ground live the bears, who tell their little children about the mouse tooth fairy who will leave them a coin under their pillow in exchange for a lost tooth, but in their hearts loathe mice (except of course when they want to eat them). Below ground live the mice, who steal the bear teeth to compensate for the loss of their precious incisors. A soulful young mouse named Celestine rebels against a mandated career in dentistry, dreaming instead of becoming an artist. Meanwhile, a ne’er do well bear named Ernest is struggling to make ends meet. Fate brings this mis-matched pair together in a daring robbery spree that advances both of their goals, but also puts the police forces of both worlds on their track.
The film has multiple laugh out loud moments, but mainly it’s a sweet 79 minute smile fest. The joy of friendship and the thrill of rebelling against unfairness take center stage. The animation is marvelous, particularly the surge of color that erupts as Ernest and Celestine’s friendship grows concurrent with the coming of spring.
Although its heroes are a pair of robbers, the film is highly moral. Their victims are an avaricious married couple for whom we feel no sympathy (He sells little bears sugary candy and she sells them replacement teeth after their originals rot away). Even more importantly, the film sends a wonderful message about the power of friendship and understanding to overcome prejudice between groups.
As with a Cat in Paris, the dubbers of the American version did not spare expense in picking the voice actors: Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Forest Whitaker and Jeffrey Wright all essay their parts with gusto. Also on hand is a rising 12-year old talent, namely a pre-Interstellar Mackenzie Foy, who voices our heroine. At the other end of life’s journey, with sadness I note that this was my beloved Bacall‘s last film.
This warm and entertaining movie deservedly carried off a boatload of awards. It’s superlative viewing for the whole family.