You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ernest and Celestine

A charming animated feature inspired by Belgium writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent's wholesome children's books of the same name.

With: Lambert Wilson, Pauline Brunner. (French dialogue)

Adding a teensy drop of darkness to its tale of interspecies friendship between a mouse and a bear, Euro co-production “Ernest and Celestine” is a charming animated feature inspired by Belgium writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s wholesome children’s books of the same name. Helmed by newcomer Benjamin Renner along with Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier, who directed stop-motion toon “A Town Called Panic,” the pic looks completely different from “Panic” with its 2D, aquarelle-style graphics, and feels less anarchic and more skewed toward younger auds. Rugrats in Francophone territories will eat this up, but further-afield prospects will be trickier.

Making use of richly detailed backgrounds and well-managed spatial relationships, the pic establishes two literally parallel worlds: Above ground, bears live mostly in a sleepy looking township, while below the earth, mice dwell in a complex subterranean village, making occasional forays into the sunlight to steal provisions from the bears, particularly teeth left under pillows by young cubs. Because their teeth are so vital to their survival, the mice have developed sophisticated dentistry techniques to replace broken gnashers, and bear teeth are the most prized denture material.

Young mouse orphan Celestine is being groomed for a career in dentistry, but she longs to be an artist instead. She has a sweet meet-cute with outsider bear Ernest, a musician-poet who lives in a secluded cottage in the forest, when she persuades him not to eat her and helps him break into a confectioner’s store instead. After various scrapes with the law for Ernest and reprimands for Celestine for her rebellious behavior, the two set up house together in Ernest’s woodland home.

The script by Daniel Pennac is deliberately blurry about whether Ernest and Celestine’s relationship is meant to be romantic, platonic or more like the love between an ursine parent and rodent child, an ambiguity that children themselves will understand much more than adults. In any event, the other mice and bears don’t get it, and the two mates end up in court on trumped-up charges, a nimbly intercut sequence that’s pulse-quickening even if the outcome is never in doubt.

Although the animation here offers a simplified take on Vincent’s spontaneous, artfully naive pen-and-watercolor drawings, it’s roughly faithful to the feel of the source material, even though the script is completely original. Vincent apparently resisted all attempts to buy the film or TV rights to her work while she was alive (she died in 2000), and she might not have liked the slight sense of archness that’s been injected here to make the pic more palatable to a contempo sensibility. That said, some of the best gags are the more sophisticated, less Vincentian ones, such as a lovely, cartoony meta-joke in which Celestine camouflages a bright red car to match the pale watercolor background of the forest.

Voicework by thesps Lambert Wilson and Pauline Brunner as the leads is adorable but will be the first thing to go if the pic is bought for other territories, which are sure to redub the whole thing.

Popular on Variety

Ernest and Celestine

Animated - France-Luxembourg-Belgium

Production: A Les Armateurs presentation of a Maybe Movies, Studiocanal, France 3 Cinema, La Parti Prod., Melusine Prods., RTBF production. (International sales: Studiocanal, Paris.) Produced by Didier Brunner, Philippe Kauffmann, Vincent Tavier, Stephan Roelants, Henri Magalon. Executive producer, Ivan Rouveure. Directed by Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, Stephane Aubier. Screenplay, Daniel Pennac, based on books by Gabrielle Vincent.

Crew: (Color, HD); editor, Fabienne Alvarez-Giro; music, Vincent Courtois, Thomas Fersen; production designers, Zaza et Zyk; sound (Dolby Digital), Dame Blanche; supervising sound editor, Blanche; animation director, Patrick Imbert; graphic character adaptation, Sei Riondet; assistant directors, Benedicte Galup, Lionel Kerjean; casting, Jean-Marc Pannetier. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 23, 2012. Running time: 79 MIN.

Cast: With: Lambert Wilson, Pauline Brunner. (French dialogue)

More Scene

  • US record producer The-Dream arrives for

    Top Music Publishers Come Together for Songs of Hope Honors

    The 15th annual Songs of Hope honors united songwriters, music industry insiders and more than a few preeminent doctors at producer Alex Da Kid’s Sherman Oaks compound on Thursday night. Jimmy Jam returned to host the event, which served as a fundraiser for the ever-vital City of Hope medical treatment center as well as a [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Keke Palmer BlogHer19 Summit

    Keke Palmer Brought to Tears Accepting Truth Teller Award at #BlogHer19 Creators Summit

    Keke Palmer stood surprised and wide-mouthed on the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit stage as she was presented with the Truth Teller Award for her recent acting work — and her viral “sorry to this man” clip. “This means so much,” the multi-hyphenated star softly whispered as she got teary-eyed upon accepting the award. Last week, the [...]


    Emmys 2019: Inside All the Hottest Pre-Parties

    It’s (Emmys) party time! Before the 71st annual Emmys go live on Sunday, stars and execs are keeping busy by party-hopping in the days leading up to the big show. Here, Variety gives you the inside details on who was where and what they were doing. Keep checking back right here throughout the weekend for [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Green Dress

    Jennifer Lopez Closes Out Versace Show in Famous Green Grammys Dress

    Jennifer Lopez has found her way back into the Versace dress that broke the internet in 2000. The “Hustlers” star closed out Versace’s Spring 2020 show in a re-worked version of the revealing, bright green silk chiffon dress that she wore to the Grammy Awards 20 years ago. The dress quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon, [...]

  • 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Variety Celebrates Inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch Event

    Storytellers from across the spectrum of entertainment — film, literature, podcasting and play writing — were honored Thursday at Variety’s inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch luncheon at Gramercy Park Hotel, hosted with partner the Independent Filmmaker Project and presented by Audible. Honorees Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of “Friday Black”; “Limetown” podcasters Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie; [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content