A lot of animated films in the U.S. tend to have a similar feel about them- you can always count on the tongue-in-cheek tone, the topical references, lately the ironic, self-aware dialogue that sounds as if it's attempting to mimic the way people speak in real life. It gets kind of annoying when you see enough to notice a similar sheen that's spread throughout all of them, no matter what other great qualities the specific movie might have. Homogenization of taste has become more of an issue with the release of these movies in the last decade, so when you see one from overseas, in this case France, it's such a welcome breath of fresh air that all you can do is simply marvel at the uniqueness of style, tone, and character. It's an utter delight to experience.
Ernest & Celestine tells the story of a little girl mouse who lives in a universe only populated by mice and bears, who are mortal enemies of each other. The big bears run the city above ground, while the mice inhabit the world below the sewers, which is another separate universe within the one created in this movie. Celestine is an orphan whose job in the society she's a part of requires stealing teeth from the bear world, so that the mice can prolong their survival by the constant replacement of incisors. Needless to say, she's not very good at this task and her trouble gets her involved with a bear called Ernest, a homeless bum who, like her, doesn't feel an automatic hatred of the other species that each are supposed to feel, and so an odd couple friendship is born that they can both use to their advantage. The friendship between this childlike yet grown-up bear and the mature beyond her years, yet actual child mouse is adorably sweet and loving, and believe it or not, reminiscent of a kind of older man-young girl relationship in other notable French films (specifically, Leon: The Professional and City of Lost Children).
It's an exceedingly simple story based on a series of children's books, yet told in the most visually exquisite way imaginable. This is the now rare hand-drawn animated feature that has not been given up by European and Asian artists, and this movie shows again how 2D can still produce gorgeous images that may open more avenues for creativity and uniqueness of style than even CG at times. The movie seems as if it sprung to life directly from the pages of the pencil drawn books, and the details of both the underground mouse world and above level bear city seem to be brimming with life and vibrant colors in every frame. Accompanied are flights of fancy in the film that includes songs (and a wonderful score), daydreams, and nightmares from the minds of Ernest and Celestine that lead to the artist's drawing shapes that correspond to whatever pictures they likely had in their mind at the time.
I do wish that more American studios would take risks with the kinds of animated films they produce (I really don't understand why 2D has been entirely abandoned, for example), and that you wouldn't have to go to other countries to find the most creative works in animation being done elsewhere. As it is, this an absolutely perfect film for children that will likely never be seen in the U.S. by 99% of them (and if it is seen it will not be with the original voices, which must be dubbed into English, an unfortunate side effect of foreign-language animated films). But it's a lovely, precious gem that should be sought out by kids and adults alike, even if you are relegated to the dubbed version only.
* * * 1/2