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   A mouse and a bear                                      could never be friends
 Or could they?                   Well, maybe,                   but that all depends.
On whether                                                                               the bear
Would dare                                                                                to share
  And not                                                                                        ingest
 The cute                                                                                   young pest
(Who lives                                                                                   beneath
And steals                                                                                  bear teeth),
  And if                                                                                        the mouse
Could stay in                                                                             his house
 And share                                                                                   her art
 And melt                                                                                   his heart,
   And if                             the couple                               could convince
The mice and             bears                 to leave                    such pairs
 And not                   insist                      they not                  persist,
 For most               hate this                     in prej-                 -udice.
The mouse         and bear                       with fond         -ness rare
 Might prove     their point                        on what’s          unfair
    And form a sweet                                             unlikely pair.


(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt is a calligram, a poem written in the shape of its subject, so I decided to go with reviewing Ernest and Celestine, in which teeth play an important role.)

Say what you will for the Academy’s Oscar choices, but every now and then they bring to light a rare gem. People scanning the nominees for Best Animated Feature in 2013 most likely read the name Ernest and Celestine and wondered where the heck that came from (not unlike The Secret of Kells in 2009 and A Cat in Paris or Chico and Rita in 2011). Though Frozen won that year, and The Wind Rises should have won, Ernest and Celestine was a worthy nomination, as cute and charming a tale as viewers are likely to find on either side of the Atlantic. Based on a series of Belgian children’s books by Gabrielle Vincent (pseudonym of Monique Martin), this French-language film follows the misadventures of the orphan mouse Celestine and the vagrant bear Ernest.

Celestine has always been taught to fear “the big bad bear” (not unlike the mice in The Tale of Despereaux) and to steal their teeth in order to support the mice’s incisor-centric society (a play on the Tooth Fairy, who is often a mouse in Europe). Likewise, Ernest is only interested in his next meal and agrees with all other bears that mice are mere pests who must stay below ground where they belong. Yet when the two meet and alternately have pity on the other, the subsequent budding friendship is undeniably heartwarming.

Adding to the charm of the story and its gentle humor is the lovely art style. This isn’t just a cartoon; it’s an illustration come to life. Certain scenes are gradually sketched from nothing, and, as detailed as much of the film is, at times the outer edges of a scene blur and fade into a blank margin, like the impressionistic pictures of a children’s book. (My VC and I had a debate over the quality of the different animation; she seems to pre-judge anything of non-Disney-style animation to be inferior, while I recognize the skill and beauty of different kinds of artwork, to a point. The fluidity of the animation is the biggest factor for me in judging its quality.) Though the film was originally in French, the English dub is excellent, with Forest Whitaker as gruff Ernest and a perfectly cast Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) as cute and persuasive Celestine. It was also one of Lauren Bacall’s last film roles.

One note for families, though:  Both Ernest and Celestine partake in burglary, and though they are punished somewhat, they never show any remorse, like Remy did in Ratatouille. Thus, neither is necessarily a good moral role model, which might prompt some discussion between parents and children. Even so, the film lends hope that the two have moved on from their crimes and are happier for it. Ernest and Celestine is utterly sweet and a guaranteed children’s classic for those families lucky enough to discover it.

Rank: List-Worthy

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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