Saturday, June 22, 2013

'Ernest & Celestine' Review: LA Film Fest

"Ernest & Celestine" at the LA Film Fest
An unlikely friendship is at the heart of Ernest & Celestine, an animated film from France directed by St├ęphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner that's based on a Belgian children's book series. The story, about a down-on-his-luck bear named Ernest and an orphaned girl mouse named Celestine, is a kind of Romeo & Juliet story, with all of the prejudice and misunderstanding but without the romantic love and, well, death.

And while the story is kid-friendly (yet a bit morally ambiguous), parents of little kids should keep in mind that the film is in French with English subtitles, which could be frustrating for non- or early readers. (There's another screening today at 4:30 p.m. at LA Live.)

Celestine is a young girl mouse who lives in an orphanage run by an old rat who tells grisly (sorry) stories of menacing bears. They're clearly the enemy. Ernest, a bumbling, downtrodden bear, meanwhile, is always searching for his next bite to eat, hoping to get money as a street performer.

One night, while Celestine is working above ground searching for bears' teeth -- which perfectly match the incisors of the underground mice -- she is almost caught by a bear family (all of whom hate mice) and ends up trapped in a trash can. Along comes Ernest, who's searching trash cans for something to eat.

To avoid being eaten, the plucky Celestine shows Ernest where he can find a storage room full of goodies -- the basement of the bear family she narrowly escaped. The father bear happens to run a candy shop, and there's a ton of chocolates, lollipops and other sweets down below.

What's interesting, we find out, is that the mother bear owns a denture shop across the street for all the bears who've lost their teeth (presumably from eating too many of her husband's sweets.)

Well, with Ernest hungry and Celestine in need of teeth to bring back down to her mouse world, you can see how morality gets a little complicated for our heroes. Long story short, Ernest steals food and helps Celestine steal teeth, and the two go on the run to Ernest's house in the country, developing a stronger friendship along the way.

The movie is beautifully drawn, in what looks like pencils and watercolors, mimicking a storybook feel. There are clever touches, such as the mice down below doing exercises using a modified mouse trap as a workout machine. It's a story about overcoming differences and not necessarily listening to the people around you, who try to scare you away from things that are sometimes worth exploring.

My concern as a parent is the sense that despite doing something clearly wrong, our two heroes tried to justify it and the consequences are, well, you'll have to see for yourself. For CC, she wasn't crazy about the part where they are being held by the bear and mouse police.

For parents who want to skip the subtitles, director Benjamin Renner said the film will be coming to the US in October -- I'm only assuming that it will be dubbed.

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