ERNEST & CELESTINE originally screened in town as part of the Portland International Film Festival (PIFF), and I remember thinking it was a shame. Not the film itself—which is an absolute delight—but the fact that it was screening in its original French with English subtitles. Fine for adults, but out of reach for kids who either don't speak French or lack the patience and/or ability to read the characters' lines. Happily, Ernest is back, this time in an English-dubbed version featuring the voices of Forest Whitaker, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, and William H. Macy, among other famous names. (The dubbed version will screen during daytime shows; evening screenings will maintain the film's original audio, with subtitles.)
Even if you don't have ready access to a youngster, Ernest & Celestine is one of those rare animated features whose message is clearly directed at children (it's based on a series of Belgian children's books), but offers something to viewers of all ages. Visually, it's rendered in muted watercolors with impressive fluidity, its uncompleted borders sketched just heavily enough to convey density. Its plot is whimsical, but bears a classic message of friendship and acceptance without falling prey to kids' movies greatest pratfall: characters so annoying they make adults grind their teeth into powder.
Ernest is a bear, part of an aboveground society that is distinctly anti-mouse. Below it is an underground rodent city that's distinctly anti-bear, where tiny mouse Celestine lives in an orphanage. They're both misfits among their kind. Celestine is expected to train as a dentist, but yearns to be an artist. Ernest is a busking hobo, who's failed his family's expectations that he become a lawyer. Through chance, the two forge a friendship, and their alliance is so scandalous that they are pursued by both the bear and the mice authorities as underground criminals. It's adorable! It also legitimately builds tension and makes an oft-trod but perfectly righteous point. Kids or no kids in tow.