Ernest & Celestine — a contender for this year’s best animated film Oscar — is pure delight.
The film’s gorgeous, hand-drawn animation is as lovingly detailed as the drawings a girl mouse named Celestine is secretly making about an imaginary mouse and bear friendship. Such a thing is anathema in the bear-hating mouse world, which exists directly below a French city populated by mouse-fearing bears (who live like humans).
One night, Celestine ventures above ground and helps a very hungry bear named Ernest break into a candy shop, an act of generosity that sparks a friendship more wonderful than any Celestine could have imagined. In adapting Gabrielle Vincent’s children’s book series (huge in Europe), screenwriter Daniel Pennac and first-time director Benjamin Renner, collaborating with co-directors Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier (A Town Called Panic), mix whimsy, slapstick, and gentle pathos with easy grace.
A virtuoso sequence in which bear cops and mouse cops join forces to chase down our heroes, whose friendship has become a scandal, should set little ones to giggling, while the moment when Ernest plays his violin while Celestine sits quietly drawing is sure to melt the heart of even the crankiest parent.
If our human world made sense, this little gem would take home the gold. (In most theaters, moviegoers can choose between the subtitled French language version, which this reviewer saw, and a version dubbed in English.)