You may have heard of Ernest & Celestine because of its status as an Academy Award nominee for Best Feature Length Animated Film. At the time of the awards, as the only nominated film I’d seen, Frozen was the only informed choice I could make in my Oscar predictions, and frankly, given the film’s immense popularity and Disney’s virtual perpetual lock on the category, it was a solid bet. However, this little French film now has an American Blu-Ray release, and I watched it. My gods, this film is lovely, and while I think Frozen is a good film, Ernest & Celestine is a fantastically charming picture that probable deserved the award more. It tells a simple story with a powerful message, and it looks gorgeous while doing it. This is a film that is incredibly relevant to our world today, yet remains timeless in its themes and presentation.
Imagine a world populated by two sentient peoples: the bears and the mice. The bears live above-ground and resemble modern urban life. The mice are subterranean dwellers who have crafted a world through the power of their incisors, cutting through the dirt and rock to create a fantastical metropolis. Both races have an inexplicable hatred of one another, born mostly out of folk tales, prejudice, and irrational fear. Celestine is a mouse who only wishes to draw and paint, yet her society pushes her to conform and become a dentist. Ernest is a bear who lives in poverty outside of town because he wants to be a musician and entertainer, and his rundown circumstances are a consequence of pursuing that dream. Through some odd and comical circumstances, Ernest and Celestine form a fast friendship and must fight to stay together against the will of their respective cultures.
The film promotes two major themes, both of which are probably fairly obvious from the previous paragraph. The first is cultural tolerance, and though the theme here is obvious, the film does not underestimate the intelligence of its audience by bashing us over the head with it. The story moralizes enough without any unnecessary exposition cluttering things up, and while it makes for a relatively short film at only 80 minutes, it feels like a tightly constructed experience without unnecessary fluff.
The other theme revolves around artistic freedom. Both main characters are artists, and they find that they can only really be themselves when around each other. The weight of their societies’ expectations of them and the ostracism that comes with not meeting those expectations are heavy burdens to bear when they are alone, but together, being themselves becomes effortless, and the film does a fantastic job of showing that rather than just blatantly telling us. That’s because this is an artist’s type of film, using the visuals and clever writing to tell a story, rather than relying on tired plot devises and unoriginal designs. Every scene looks like a moving watercolor painting pulled right off a storybook page, and it is animated gorgeously. The score is fantastic in the wonderfully realized chase scenes, and the more fantastical dream sequences and musical sections are quite a sight to behold.
All in all, Ernest & Celestine is a fantastic film for people of all ages, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in animation give this one a go. It’s smartly written, touching in its way, and simply gorgeous to look at. It may not be as musically catchy and mainstreamingly princess-oriented as Frozen, but in my humble opinion, Ernest & Celestine is the film much more worthy of award recognition. I know I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.
What’s your favorite animated film of all time? Let me know in the comments below.