In outline, the setup is not wholly unlike many of the animated features coming out of Hollywood: lovable anthropomorphized animals play out humanoid conflicts and realize that we all have to learn to live together. In style, pace and humor, however, “Ernest & Celestine” couldn't be more different.
The exact economics of this aren't fully explained, butas in most of the real world the leaders of each society use the threat of the other to control their own. This uneasy arrangement seems permanent... until Celestine (voiced by Mackenzie Foy) comes along. Like all mouse orphans, she is training to be a dentist and is expected to bring some baby bear teeth home after a nocturnal raid.
At the same time, we are introduced to Ernest (Forest Whitaker), an outsider among the bears. He wakes up famished from a long winter's nap and heads town in search of food. He arrives, hoping to pick up some money as a street busker, a one-bear band. He almost eats Celestine, but she talks him out of it. Let it be noted that she is a charming and a talented artist, but also a bit of a know-it-all.
Circumstances make them partners in crime and, with police of both species after them, they hole up in Ernest's remote shack. The effect of their initial crimes, however, is nothing compared to their real sin — inter-species friendship — the love that dare not squeak its name.
The visual style is nothing like the conventional Hollywood animated feature. The drawing is sketchier, looking like a collaboration between Ludwig Bemelmans (“Madeline”), George Booth and Garth Williams' illustrations for E.B. White. The humor is mostly gentle and whimsical, without the nonstop gags we're used to.
Adults and very young kids will probably be delighted; some of the hyperactive ages in between may be disappointed by its dissimilarity to what they're used to. I love most of the conventions of commercial Hollywood animation. It's just nice to have an alternative now and then.
--ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).