“Ernest & Celestine:” The feature-length read-aloud

Bears and mice aren't supposed to be friends, but that doesn't stop Ernest the bear and Celestine the mouse in this odd and charming animation.

The Academy Award-nominated film Ernest & Celestine chronicles the relationship between Ernest, a grumpy, down-on-his luck bear, and Celestine, the plucky orphan mouse who wins Ernest’s heart like Annie winning over Daddy Warbucks. Except Ernest is no Warbucks: instead, he’s a hungry bear who is just as alone in his world as Celestine is in hers.

The spare animation makes the film feel like a picture book read out loud. In a sense, it is: The film is based on Gabrielle Vincent’s Ernest et Célestine series, started in the 1980s.

The animations portray the questionable and shifting proportions only possible in children’s television — are the mice the size of Ernest’s head or his thumb?

The English-language release features the voices of Forest WhitakerLauren Bacall and Paul Giamatti.

The film is a bit heavy-handed and simplistic in its advocacy of equality, although equality is certainly a celebrated goal in society. But Celestine’s monologues lack the nuance that would make them believable for a young mouse raised in a stifling, segregated society. Of course, in a film about personified mice and bears believability isn’t the goal. And the corny abruptness of the dialogue might be partly a translation issue.

The plot circumstances and the relationship between Ernest and Celestine are at once odd and charming, and the story’s assessment of the human condition is creative and hopeful. If you’re looking for a movie to take the whole family to, this could be an option. Otherwise, you might want to just rent it.

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