The team behind the demented Belgian stop-motion feature animation “A Town Called Panic” have turned to graceful hand drawn images for the wry “Ernest and Celestine”, based on a charming series of books by Gabrielle Vincent.
The film, one of 19 animated features submitted for the 2013 Oscars in the Animation category, is an endearing story about marching to your own drum.
Two societies, Mousetown and Bearsville live side by side. Teaching their young to fear each other they have worked out an interesting synergy.
Both civilizations teach their young survival myths. The Bears teach their young to leave their teeth under their pillow for the Mouse Tooth Fairy (Celestine meets the description.)
The Mice tell a different tale. The Tooth Clinic Professor (played by the witty Dominique Collignon) explains, “We are delicate creatures, yet we have rerouted the greatest rivers in the world. All our civilization, all our achievements are based on what? Incisors! And what happens to a mouse without incisors? He dies!”
Artist Celestine, a mouse, and musician Ernest (a bear) reject the prejudices and go their own way.
Wee Celestine (Pauline Brunner) has a talent: she draws. She draws all the time, after lights out at her dormitory, where, as in Bemelman’s Madeline, live 12 little mice in two straight lines. She enchants her dorm mates with heretical drawings of a friendly bear. The Big Grey house mother (Anne-Marie Loop) frightens the little mice with bedtime stories about the Big Bad Bear, warning stubborn Celestine about the mouse who didn’t believe in the BBB and came to a bad end.
Willful Celestine, a dental trainee, also draws when she’s supposed to be working. The mice are sent on missions to the town of the Bears, to steal teeth, especially incisors, used in transplants for older mice who’ve lost their teeth. Celestine is 50 teeth behind in her quota, and needs to collect them before she’s welcome back at the school. (At her school, the mice weight train lifting the snap bar on mousetraps, instead of weights.)
Civilized Ernest, who lives in secluded cottage high over the town, is also an artist; a musician who plays piano and violin and has circus skills.
When Ernest wakes, starving, after his winter hibernation, he has a season’s worth of dirty dishes in the sink. Crazed by hunger, he rages around his kitchen ransacking the cupboards, moaning inchoately in the manic spirit of the frenzied characters in “A Town Called Panic.”
But this churlish behavior is a lapse on the part of gentle, mannerly Ernest, who apologizes when he knocks over houses fleeing through Mousetown, and would rather stew in his teeny Mouse jail cell that accuse his friend
Biking into town for vittles, he’s stopped by the police for busking. (His tuneful begging falls on deaf ears.) Meanwhile Celestine, sent to Bearsville to collect teeth, sneaks into the King Of Candy’s home. She’s discovered sketching in his son’s bedroom. Madame Bear screams in fear, the comic chase destroys the place. Fleeing out the window Celestine lands in a garbage can where she’s discovered, sleeping, by the famished Ernest.
Celestine is a resourceful heroine. Caught by Ernest the bear, the boogybear of her teacher’s stories, she argues him out of eating her like a motor mouth lawyer. She watches for every opportunity and she never takes no for an answer.
Léon (Léonard Louf), the son of the town’s premiere candy salesman the King Of Candy, refuses to believe in the Mouse Tooth Fairy. As stubborn as Celestine, he disguises himself to buy candy from his father, who slips it to the town’s children with a smile. But candy is absolutely forbidden in their home. Monsieur (Patrice Melennec) and Madame Bear (Brigitte Virtudes) sit their son down for a stern talking to. “Respect the Laws of Business. Your wealth comes from the rotten teeth of your fellow bears. Papa spoils teeth on one side of the street, and on the other side of the street Maman replaces them. One day these joined fortunes will be yours.”
Celestine shows Ernest the well-stocked candy store basement. Ernest eats his way through the stocks, sleeps it off and is hauled off to the hoosegow.
Celestine rescues him if he will do her a favor, empty out Madame Bear’s pricey tooth boutique, so she can fulfill her 50-tooth quota and go back home.
In the end, they buck both systems, living and making art together.
There are a couple of animated Keystone Cops chases with the above ground Bear Cops and the underground Mice Police in full pursuit, and a double courtroom trial ending in a happy deus ex machina. What more could you wish for?
The film will have an English language U.S. release through GKIDS, voiced by Lauren Bacall, David Boat, Mackenzie Foy (Celestine), Paul Giamatti,
William H. Macy, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Forest Whitaker (Ernest) and Jeffrey Wright.