TIFF 2012: Ernest and Celestine Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Ernest and Celestine (2012)

Directed by Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier

Starring Lambert Wilson

The opening credits has it all, drawing out simple lines to introduce this animated movie’s titular characters Ernest, a bear, and Celestine, a young mouse. The movie’s animators and directors Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier show their fluent grasp of their visual language. I was charmed like a kid is charmed by magic or cake or talking animals. The rest of the sequences handle its light pastel colours and shapes like synesthetes, making us see these elements and their movements as if it were the first time.

“Celestine, what are you drawing,” harks one of the Madeleine-style roommates, all of them curiously crowding her and her notebook. I watch a lot of live action European films that use the vernacular, which is great if I want something ‘authentic.’ But the voice actors here use the French language beautifully, the way it is meant to be spoken. I know that the actors’ enunciation is for technical reasons, speaking clearly because the animated characters can’t compare to the kind of communication that live facial expressions can offer. But I like diction and this movie has it.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The movie doesn’t have a plot as much as it has a well detailed back story and world view. Celestine is an intern at a dentistry’s office, since teeth are the building blocks of her underground rodent civilization. Her job as one of the office’s younglings, is to steal the teeth of the animals above ground – the scary bears. But she’s not as good at it. One of her teeth scavenging trips serendipitously leads her to Ernest (Wilson, more rambunctious in this role compared to his asexual rendering of his leader priest role in Of Gods and Men), a illegally busking bear. He wants to eat her in the beginning, as bedtime legends that older rats tell younger mice have warned her. Before I continue with the synopsis, I would like to say that the eating thing as well as other things that happen in the movie makes it as scary as the Disney movies we grew up with in the 90’s.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Eventually they bond over the fact that they are both social outcasts. I’d assume some  would describe their relationship as one between a father and daughter, but I see it more as a platonic relationship. Celestine is a great character and is smarter than she looks, demanding to be treated by Ernest as an equal.

Ernest and Celestine are mirror images of each other, which is also the movie’s biggest flaw. After they meet the same things happen to them even when police of the bear and mice variety separate them. I would have liked a little variation of their plot arcs, even if the ones that we saw are loyal to their source material. Nonetheless, and as I would say this to the movie’s young target audience without talking down to them, this movie is a ride and it’s colourfully pretty and you’ll like it.

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