Ernest and Celestine

Ah…finally, the last of the Oscar films: Ernest and Celestine, the delightful french story of an orphan mouse girl (all mice may be orphans, I’m not sure) in an underground mouse world that send their kids out to scavenge in the above world (populated by bears) to fetch their children’s teeth.

The mice, you see, use the teeth to replace their own teeth, which are crucial to the mice’s survival.

The bears, meanwhile, tell their children about the tooth fairy, but actually freak out at the presence of mice.

So, there’s some tension.

Celestine isn’t meeting her tooth quota, but in her attempt to nab a tooth, she’s spotted, and ends up trapped in a trash can overnight.

Meanwhile, Ernest is an artistic, if somewhat lazy, bear who lives out in the woods and discovers himself out of food. He heads to the city to busk but after having no luck finds himself picking through garbage cans.

Thus, Ernest and Celestine meet. The relationship gets off to a rocky start with Celestine having to convince Ernest to to eat her but, as you might imagine, it improves from there and they become friendly.

Of course, their problems get worse at that point, because they live in a society where associating with the other species is treason.

This movie is really, really cute. It’s saved from going overboard by being also very clever and having just the hint of fairytale style edge. The animation style is traditional, 2D minimalism, showing just enough in each frame to tell the story, like a child’s picture book, and using the medium for some charming sight gags (such as when Ernest paints the car to camouflage it).

It’s barely over an hour, too, and moves at a breakneck pace.

The Flower loved it, naturally, but The Boy also loved it, which is saying something. One of the producers, Didier Brunner, was also behind The Secret of the Kells and The Triplets of Belleville, but I’m not sure what the common theme is other than “ability to get Oscar nominations”.

(On a tangent, four years later, having finally seen Monsters vs. Aliens, I think I like The Secret of the Kells.)

Actually, if there is a commonality between the three movies, it’s that they have just the right style of animation for their story. The big American animation studios look for stories to tell in their animation style (now almost exclusively CGI), whereas these guys seem to be looking for the animation style that’s right for the story they want to tell.

It’s a good thing.

The real tragedy here is that this should be a moderately large hit, perhaps skewing too young and not being edgy enough to be huge, but with proper distribution at least should get $30-60M box office—a goal they can’t make when being shown in less than 40 theaters. Sadly it has made only about $250K in the US (and about $5M worldwide).

Although the English version has the celebrity-voice disease, they are at least celebrities with noteworthy voices: Forest Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy and Lauren Bacall are all featured, though the film is ably carried by Whitaker as Ernest and young Mackenzie Foy as Celestine.

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