Unlikely partners brave the odds

‘Ernest & Celestine’ is a poignant and joyful crowd-pleaser for every age

BRATTLEBORO — The beautiful animation of Ernest & Celestine, based on the beloved books of Belgian writer and artist Gabrielle Vincent (1928–2000), captured an Academy Award nomination for best animation. But it's the adaptation of Vincent's brilliant storytelling that has turned this film into an instant classic, a poignant and joyful crowd-pleaser for every age.

Subtle messages that could have been clichés, such as “we are all connected,” are conveyed as lightly as feathers or snowflakes drifting on a breeze, imperceptibly touching the lives of characters, who intersect in very interesting ways.

Celestine, a tiny schoolgirl mouse with an artistic temperament and impractical ideals, would seem an unlikely friend to Ernest, a full-grown, cynical street-hustling bear hardly tolerated at the margin of society.

Making their friendship even more improbable is the traditional enmity between their communities. Circumstance and necessity bring them into a strategic alliance.

The dialogue is impeccable, with the English voices played by Mackenzie Foy (Ernestine), Forest Whitaker as an unforgettable Ernest, and - unmistakably - Lauren Bacall, in her last role, as the Gray One.

At one point, Ernest delivers a bombastic litany of his community's stereotypes against Celestine's kind: “I've already told you: No mice inside the house. Ever! You let one in here, you get a thousand. That's what you're all like. Just ask any bear.”

“Now, scram! No mice inside the house!”

He tosses her out into the snow.

“Now stay out!”

* * *

Of course, a mouse can always find a way in. Celestine persists. After all, she has been banned from the mouse community because of her friendship with a bear, and now has nowhere to go.

She reminds Ernest that the only way to get rid of a mouse is to kill it, and continues with graphic but hilarious descriptions of the various gruesome ways to kill a mouse.

“Is that what you want, Ernest?” she asks.

“Of course not, Celestine, but it's just that, a mouse and a bear. It seems so, you know...”

“So what? Improper? Is that it? Bears above, and mice below?”

“Well, yeah. It's always been that way.”

Grudgingly, Ernest decides to tolerate Celestine. Gradually, they begin to discover how much they have in common.

* * *

The execution of the plot is perfect cinematography. Each problem faced by Celestine and Ernest prompts them to a solution that results in a bigger problem, forcing them into even more risky solutions. Violations become misdemeanors, then felonies.

Soon Ernest and Celestine are fugitives from both the bear and mouse police. But in their remote hiding place, surrounded by natural beauty, they develop their talents and even become artistic collaborators.

It is, of course, the infectious love, honesty, and humanity of our protagonists that expose and overcome the hypocrisy of the mouse establishment and corruption of bear society.

The culminating event that transforms these violent emotions is the dramatic achievement of this highly memorable film.

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