It was noted by some Oscar pundits that of the 56 movies nominated for the 2014 Academy Awards, none had as slim a chance of taking home the prize as the darling Ernest & Celestine. The animated film is a poignant fable about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse that in a just world, would have at least had a chance against the mega-success of Disney's Frozen.
Eschewing spectacle for a minimalist animation style that suggests line drawings and watercolors, this French-Belgian production is delightful enough in its initial whimsy before the reveal of a potent allegory about the damages, seen and unseen, wrought by social prejudice and fear.
Celestine is an orphaned mouse with a knack for the arts. She has a naive distrust of the tales told to her and her fellows about the dangers of encountering a hungry bear fresh from its winter hibernation. One such bear is Ernest, who first meets Celestine during a bout of extreme hunger but is nevertheless swayed from making her a snack, thus commencing their taboo friendship. Growing pains between them soon reveal themselves to be the twitching remnants of unexamined customs -- stigmas that rear their ugly head when Ernest makes an inadvertent appearance in Celestine's rodent community.
It's worth noting that, as I write this, I've only seen the French-language version of the film, but have no reason to doubt the excellence of the English-language dub (starring, among other talents, Forest Whitaker and Lauren Bacall). Ernest & Celestine benefits incalculably from having been made, in both form and content, with the ethos of 'to thine own self be true' as chief above all. The film doesn't strain itself to appeal to both adults and children, forgoing sardonic references and innuendo for a gentle appeal to everyone's inner child. Were the film made 30 years ago, it would be the kind many families would have worn thin from endless VHS repeats. I can't wait to watch it again.
Ernest & Celestine is available on Blu-ray/DVD beginning June 17.
Robert Humanick is a contributing writer for slantmagazine.com