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Ernest & Celestine (2012)

In this year's crop of best animated feature Oscar nominees, as well as the usual CGI contenders, two traditionally animated flicks also made the cut. Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises was pretty much a shoe-in for a nod, but this year's "little film that could" was the French-Belgian co-production Ernest & Celestine. In truth, with such high-profile competition, it never stood much of a chance, but it was cheering to see it even get it mention. It may lack the visual polish of a Dreamworks or Disney Pixar production, or the pedigree of Studio Ghibli, but Ernest & Celestine is not so easily dismissed.

According to folklore in much of mainland Europe, it's not tooth-fairies that collect children's teeth, but tooth-mice. Based on this idea Ernest & Celestine presents us with a (literally) underground world of mice, built on a tooth-based economy. Adult mice send out orphan children to gather the teeth left under pillows in the world above ground. Yet it's not humans that the mini-mice are in this unspoken relationship with- it's a society made up (for some reason) of bears.

The two parallel world live in fear of each other- which probably explains why the mice send their young and vulnerable to do their dirty work. The titular Celestine is a young orphaned mouse who dreams of being an artist. When she meets and befriends a gruff but good-hearted bear named Ernest, a whole heap of trouble ensues.

With beautiful watercolour animation, the film has a timeless visual style. It's unsurprising to hear it's based on a series of children's books, as it resembles nothing so much as a picture book come to life. The animation itself it's not quite as smooth looking as some top-flight traditional animation, but the slightly jerky style actually adds to the movie's charm.

"Charm" is the watch-word here, as it flows through every frame of this animation. It's completely and utterly beguiling, with a heart-warming story and loveable characters. It's also got a distinctly French feel (particularly in the sense of humour) that keeps it from ever becoming overly sentimental.

The world we're presented with is an eccentric one, but a strangely believable one too. There's a hint of satire in the way the two worlds fear each other- and a highly positive message for young'uns about friendship and tolerance. Which brings me to my one and only gripe. The UK release I reviewed (from Studio Canal) is only available in its original language, with English subtitles. Of course, for the erudite, sophisticated and attractive reader of this blog, that's no problem. But it does mean that the film's primary intended audience will be excluded. In North America however, the folks at GKids are releasing the film with a brand new English dub- though I can't speak for its quality.

Whichever language you watch it in, Ernest & Celestine is an utter delight, and the Oscar Nomination was thoroughly deserved.  Ce'st Magnifique!