“Ernest & Celestine”, 2012 | La Parti Productions, Les Armateurs, Maybe Movies
Ernest (voiced by Forest Whitaker) is a penniless bear who lives on the margins of the “World Above”. Though grumpy, he possesses a tender heart that once dreamt of becoming a poet or musician while his parents would have liked him to be a judge. Ever hungry, Ernest finds Celestine asleep in a garbage can and soon befriends the charming little mouse.
Celestine (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) is an orphan mouse. Preferring drawing over dentistry, she is pushed out of her home into a fateful encounter with Ernest. In “The World Below”, it is forbidden to befriend “The Big Bad Bear”. Nevertheless, Celestine is determined to become Ernest’s associate and accomplice.
We first met Ernest and Celestine through the series of children’s books by Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent. We love books in our family. My five year old son gets immersed so easily in a book he loves and after I read it three times to him, he is able to memorise it from start to finish and then he wants to tell the story to us as well. But the best part is that he takes it further and invents his own stories… The power of books, a child’s imagination. Can anything beat that?
Our screen time is still very limited, but we have been introducing him to a few animated features (less Disney, more European and international, some inspired by the films our favourite independent local movie theatre has been showing – I do miss the cinema) and some have become fast favourites. Ernest & Celestine (2012), the animated film based on Gabrielle Vincent’s books and directed by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, is one of them. And I am so glad he loves so much a film based on a story he first discovered in books.
The minimalist and expressive hand-drawn watercolour brushstrokes and the blank space left in the frames leave the impression that this is a classic illustrated children’s book brought to life on screen (just have a look at these behind-the-scene storyboards). And that’s what’s so special about the film. Is is a film made for children, like a beautiful transition from books, the first imaginary worlds they familiarise with, to movies, with its simple drawings yet fluid animation. The transition is gentle, as it should be, but no less fascinating. It is not an animated film for adults, like so many Hollywood productions are, which may seem that they are made for children but clearly aimed at adults (with pretentious messages and triumphant endings), it is an animated film with children at heart, in which children and adults alike find joy and meaning.
It is a simple story about a friendship between a mouse and a bear who should not be friends, because they live in different worlds and societies and they are raised to live in fear or disapproval of the other, but they befriend nonetheless. It is a beautiful and moving message, and one which children of this age fully comprehend, and it is so beautifully and humbly rendered. This is a film confident in its ability to convince with kind gestures, not with big words and big action scenes.
More stories: Making Art and Creating Awareness: Interview with Alex Beard / The Wolves of Currumpaw / Editorial: The Children Are Alright