It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what I love most about the 2012 French animated feature Ernest & Celestine. Be it the story, animation style, or voice acting this little gem of a film can match any Pixar, Disney, or DreamWorks corporate concoction blow for blow, all in less time and with less cloying sentimentality.
Inspired by the works of Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, the titular characters of the film are immediately painted as outsiders at the opening of the picture. The bear Ernest, a loud and hulking starving artist, shunned from the quaint village life that the middle class bears we see in the picture live in, all because he refused to continue to live in the bourgeoisie bliss that his forbearers had planned for him. While in similar circumstances the mouse Celestine, toils underfoot of prejudiced mice and bears, forced to collect the fallen teeth of spoiled little bear cubs to be used to repair the busted choppers of her mouse brethren. Their fates intertwine when Ernest’s hunger and Celestine’s fascination with the “Big Bad Bear” lead both to rob a middle class bear family of their sweets and their pearly white merchandise, an action which leads to them spending an entire winter together as they try and evade the cops.
Though the two meet by chance, it’s not such a leap of faith to believe that these two could be merely just accomplices. They are, to use an oft-used cliché, soul mates. Not in the romantic sense of the word though. Ernest and Celestine’s relationship is akin more to that of Marc Anthony and Pussyfoot in the classic Merrie Melodies short Feed the Kitty (1952), a closeness analogous to that of close siblings or longtime friends.
And as far as influences are concerned, Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are stamped on every cell of this film. From the use of watercolors, lines that flow through the screen as light as air and at times burst into a starburst of colors, natural landscapes, and an evocative soundtrack. Ernest & Celestine, like the best Ghibli pictures, are all about mood and atmosphere and goes a long way to prove that animation is not just for kids.