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A Movie Nerd With Kids Reviews "Ernest & Celestine" (2012)

The Plot at a Glance


Ernest & Celestine, like many of the movies I stream at random for my kids, is apparently based on a series of children's books that I never heard of.  Either this speaks to my literary ignorance or it's just that I haven't had a reason to read kids' books in over twenty years and a lot of cool stuff came out between then and when Lulabelle was born.

Anyway, this movie is about an adult bear named Ernest and a kid mouse named Celestine who become unlikely friends.  They live in world where bears and mice are physically segregated; the bears live in a city above ground and the mice live beneath them.

Ernest and Celestine are both starving artist types.  Ernest has dedicated his life to music and performance, but lives in a remote shack in the woods and wanders into the city only to beg and busk.  Celestine likes to draw and paint, but is forced by her orphanage (of course she's an orphan) to work as a dentist's assistant, which means she goes up to the bears' city to harvest kid bears' teeth that they... y'know what, there's a lot of exposition behind this that I don't need to get into.  She's a dental assistant and hates it.

After some chance encounters, Ernest and Celestine go to live together in Ernest's shack where they enjoy each other's creative work and cheer each other on.  They grow closer and more inseparable, but they have to stay one step ahead of their corresponding bear / mouse authorities, who are out to arrest them due to bigotry and possibly some misdemeanors that were committed earlier.

My Thoughts


I liked this one quite a bit.  It's one of those terrific movies where the basics are all tried-and-true tropes - unlikely friends team up and overcome obstacles - but the details they're packaged in are beautiful, unique, and fresh.

The animation, for example, is fantastic.  Everything is drawn and colored with a sort of rough sketch / watercolor approach, which lends the world a dreamlike, storybook effect.  What's amazing is how this style lends itself to both beauty and horror; there are sequences where the animation is relaxing and tranquil, and other times where subtle changes in tone make it menacing and nightmarish.

I also liked that it genuinely does feel like a kids' movie, although not a condescending one.  The filmmakers didn't throw in a bunch of jokes "for the parents" or anything like that; everything in here is very much meant for children.  I was shocked to discover that it's rated PG - I can think of no other movie I've seen in the last year that is more deserving of a G.


I also dug the low-key approach the movie takes.  I saw this on the heels of quite a few big-budget, major productions with epic storylines and set-pieces.  Ernest & Celestine almost sets itself up that way when you realize the two characters are at odds with their respective societies, but then it backs up and settles for something cozier and understated.  Instead of a major, globe-spanning conflict, it puts the basic fear of loneliness and disappointment on center stage and lets the characters overcome that together.

In short, it's a gentle soul of a movie that should be in any parent's regular rotation.

Summary


My Score: 4 / 5

How Did Lulabelle (2 years old) React?

She was really into it for the first half, but then she started getting cranky because she missed a nap.  Still watched the whole thing, though.

How Did Sonja (10 months old) React?

She was napping on and off.  Seemed to enjoy the mellow animation.

How Did Stephanie (My Wife) React?

She missed the first half, but then when she and her mother walked into the room, the conversation they were having stopped dead and they sat down to watch intently.  They liked it.

Any Useful Ethical, Educational, or Thematic Content?

Sure.  The main message is about being open-minded to new experiences and not letting social pressures / bigotry prevent you from making friends, which is a pretty important moral.  To a lesser extent, it also teaches the value of art and following your passions.

Trigger Warnings / Egregious Offenses?

Hard to say.  If you're a far-right, conservative type, this one could piss you off - you'll probably make it twenty minutes in and then be like, "typical liberal crap!" and turn it off.  But, then again, you're the type of person who really needs to learn this movie's lesson, so... yeah, that's your problem, bub.  As for anybody else, I don't see much here that stands out as particularly upsetting.

How Likely Are You to Be Annoyed?

I'll go with 20%.  It's unlikely, but there are some moments that may be a little bit too precious, and that might get under your skin if you're having a bad day.

How Likely Are You to Cry In Front of Your Kids?

Let's say 25%.  The movie is very, very laid-back and doesn't try to tug at your heartstrings so much.  The most emotional parts of the movie are subdued and downplayed, and there definitely aren't any Iron Giant-styled self-sacrifice scenes or anything like that.  But the characters' overall friendship is very sweet, and in the right (or wrong) context, I can see that pushing you over the edge and making you misty-eyed.

Final Weighted Score: 4 / 5

Everybody seemed to dig this one quite a bit.  Even though the kids weren't 100% invested the whole way through, they liked what they watched.  And the overall experience is fun and good-natured, so I'd definitely recommend it.