Ernest & Celestine

untitledRating: PG

After Ernest, a poor bear, finds Celestine, an orphan mouse, in a trashcan, she helps Ernest sate his hunger through theft, partially due to her personal, unpopular belief that bears are not evil. Mouse society rests on their incisors, which have an unfortunate tendency to break or fall out; as a result, dentists (who use bear teeth as replacements) are highly valued, but Celestine is in danger of being kicked out of her dentist internship if she cannot collect fifty teeth. Celestine helps Ernest out once again based on his agreement to assist her with the teeth. Chased out by their respective police forces for their alliance, the two move in together and become friends. While this movie is based on a series of Belgian children’s books, I have not read them and  cannot testify as to how closely the movie follows the books.

The major theme of the movie is the importance of friendship in overcoming stereotypes about others. Ernest & Celestine also repeatedly points out the role of sugar in bad teeth and the mouse society focuses on teeth, so lessons about dental hygiene also play a fairly significant role. There are no explicit learning goals; however, this French film was given a new, English voice cast after its initial success abroad, and so observers can spot French writing throughout the movie. This could be used for simple language learning by looking for words like souris (mouse) and ours (bear).

There is no sexual content, bad language (the worst insult is “moron”), or overt violence, but the mice and bears do attempt violence against the main characters and each other by setting out traps and through verbal threats. Common Sense Media also notes that the abundance of yelling (particularly in the film’s climax courtroom scenes) may be upsetting for younger viewers. Moreover, while  backed by various national French television stations, there is no commercial interest influencing it that will be apparent to American viewers (except perhaps in engaging new readers in the book series), although native French or Belgian audiences might pick up on some nuance that I missed.

Drawn in watercolors, Ernest & Celestine looks like a picture book brought to life, and the traditional 2D animation gives it a somewhat nostalgic feel. The main characters are well-developed, but some of the supporting characters can seem like caricatures (one that comes to mind is the store owner obsessed with profit to the point where good teeth relate back to making money). Another potential mark of quality is the fact that it won the César Award (the French national film awards) for Best Animated Feature and the English version was nominated for an Academy Award in addition to excellent reviews from library organizations (see below for links).

I could not find a studio-generated description of the intended audience and Common Sense Media’s review simply said ages 7 up, but School Library Journal suggests that this movie is best for children in kindergarten through fourth grade. Personally, I think that Ernest & Celestine’s messages are perhaps a little too overt for older children’s tastes, making a cut-off age reasonable, and the lack of widely objectionable material and the existence of a clear plot (along with adorable anthropomorphic animals) all point to the School Library Journal’s suggestions as appropriate. However, despite being blunt about the main messages, this movie is still funny and well done (one reviewer calls it “sophisticated” [1]), so adults or older siblings who need a movie to watch with a child in that age range can appreciate it as well.

–Maureen F.

[1] Sandlin, M. (2014). Ernest & Celestine. Video Librarian, 29(5), 24.

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