In the absolutely charming universe of Ernest & Celestine, bears are the dominate species and live above ground. Meanwhile, mice dwell in elaborate underworld cities. Each group has their own myth about the other reinforcing prejudices that maintain a separation between the two. Strangely, and pragmatically, the one thing they have in common is a fondness for teeth. They’re treated like a commodity. And so one of the main job opportunities for mice is dentistry while others act as tooth fairies scavenging what they can from the grizzly world above. One such mouse is Celestine, an orphan with a penchant for drawing and system bucking.
It’s at this point we are introduced to Ernest. At first Ernest seems like a typical ferocious bear from all the tall mouse tales. He awakes from winter starving and on the prowl for anything to fill his belly. He does some one-man band busking but receives no donations. While on their separate quests the two chance to meet, manage to put aside their differences, and eventually become good friends.
Directors Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner, and Stéphane Aubier hit nary a false note. The 2d animation is simply enchanting. A lot of the backdrops are half-finished so the world drops off into infinity. It gives the film a storybook feel. The humor is clever but uncomplicated. It relies on obvious absurdities like an over-sized bear in a mouse house or the swarm-like movements of the police. Ernest and Celestine’s friendship poses a threat to their separate societies. The movie uses this idea to poke at social structures it finds foolish. Schools, businesses, courts, and all forms of authority get a good ribbing.
Like the main characters, the movie follows its own path. If it wants to digress in one direction before getting back to the core story it does. But at barely 80 minutes it never feels padded or dragged out. With splendid visuals and remarkable clarity, its delights are impossible to resist.
Note: The version I saw was subtitled, but the upcoming release is getting an all-star dub.