Film Review: Loyalty and Friendship in Gentle ‘Ernest & Celestine’

ernest_hires1Ernest and Celestine packs a potent message about loyalty and friendship into its soft-pastel look. The Oscar-nominated and Cesar-winning film from the creative team behind Triplets of Belleville and The Secret of Kells is overall a gentle (though entertaining and at times quite boisterous) tale that is certainly geared for children but can be appreciated for its artistic value and thoughtful story by adults.

ernest_hires4Based on the 1981-2000 book series by the late Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent (the pen name for Monique Martin), the movie brings together mouse-dentist-in-training Celestine with outsider bear Ernest. In a world where bears and mice act very much like humans, adopting not only their social structures but fear and contempt for the “other,” that is definitely a forbidden friendship. Their newly forged bond is tried figuratively and literally when each is captured by the other’s authorities and put on trial. Will their ties truly bind?

ernest_hires5The animation has the watercolor essence of Vincent’s illustrations; its softness (aided by Vincent Courtois‘ sweet musical score) makes the story easy to swallow, particularly when scuffles with the police and other highly-charged moments occur. It’s nevertheless silly that the MPAA has slapped a PG rating on the film for its “scary moments”; to put it in perspective remember when that organization put a rating on a 1970s re-issue of the Disney classic Bambi it got a G despite having to deal at one point with the death of Bambi’s mother. There have been many others but Ernest and Celestine is a good example of just how out-of-touch the ratings folks have become with modern social mores.

ernest_hires6I enjoyed the French language version with English subtitles (a taste of that is provided below in the first of two videos embedded with this article). At the Belcourt Theatre where it’s now playing in Nashville the English dubbed version will be shown featuring the voices of such fine actors as Forest Whitaker (Ernest), Mackenzie Foy (Celestine), Lauren Bacall (The Gray One), Paul Giamatti (Rat Judge), William H. Macy (Head Dentist), Megan Mullally (Lucienne), Nick Offerman (George) and Jeffrey Wright (Bear Judge). I hope you’ll check out this lovely film before it leaves Nashville; the child in all of us needs the fun, whimsy, love and hope Ernest and Celestine so beautifully contains.

Ernest and Celestine ( opens today (May 9) in Nashville exclusively at the Belcourt Theatre (2102 Belcourt Ave.) and runs through Wednesday (May 14); click here for showtimes and to purchase tickets. Rated PG for some scary moments, 80 minutes. Directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner; written by Daniel Pennac, based on the books by Gabrielle Vincent; English screenplay adaptation by Stephanie Sheh; director of animation, Patrick Imbert; edited by Fabienne Alvarez-Giro; music by Vincent Courtois; lyrics by Thomas Fersen.



*Images and videos courtesy GKIDS Films.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (