Movie review

'Ernest and Celestine' is simply charming

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The bear plays the piano and cello — not particularly well, but enough to get by as a street performer. The mouse is studying to be a dentist but has potential as an artist. They’re not so much outcasts as loners. Soon to be roommates. And soon to run afoul of the law.

'Ernest and Celestine'

Starring: Voices of: Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, William H. Macy.

Rating: PG for some scary moments.

They live in France and in the wonderful animated feature film “Ernest and Celestine,” suitable for children, juveniles, young lovers and the geriatric set. There’s nobody who wouldn’t enjoy this charming piece of continental whimsy, so different from the razzle-dazzle Pixar type cartooning on this side of the pond.

Director Stephane Aubier’s style is watercolor-based and beautifully suited to the dual worlds of its protagonists: The bears inhabit above-ground cities. The rodents live deep down beneath them in tunnel towns of their own. With mutual fear and loathing, never the twain shall meet — except for Ernest and Celestine.

They have issues, as well as talents, galore. Everybody disapproves of their unlikely friendship, for obvious reasons. Ernest is a pretty grumpy guy, Celestine the eternal optimist. He steals a car. They’re in serious grand-theft-auto trouble. They get ratted on, literally, hauled to jail and put on trial. It’s the French system, so if you lose, the guillotine awaits.

“Ladies and gentlemice...!” the prosecutor intones.

You get the idea.

A delightful variety of mad hatters and mad ratters populate the tale, cleverly written by Daniel Pennac based on Gabrielle Vincent’s original book.

Ernest is food-obsessed, and my favorite scene is a dream sequence in which Ernest imagines floating on a cloud of candy, happily stuffing himself — until it turns into a nightmare with a hundred mice materializing to eat the goodies out from under him.

The voices are perfect in the English-language version: Forest Whitaker for Ernest, Pauline Brunner for Celestine, Lauren Bacall for the Eminence Grise and William H. Macy as the head dentist.

But most of all, there’s that gorgeous, painterly animation — naturalistic in a hand-drawn way you never see any more in American animated films.

The message is as good as the medium: Rise above your prejudices, stand up for your individual (as well as collective) rights — a sweet lesson about acceptance and inclusion.

This beautiful little offbeat fable is childlike in its simplicity and sincerity. Wryly funny and literate, with fabulous attention to visual detail. It’s fresh proof that you don't need computers and sappy singing princesses to charm young and old alike.

Opens at the Regent Square Theater.  In English on weekends, in French with sub-titles on week nights.


Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris can be reached at

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