ErnestandCelestinecoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes
2012, 80 min., Color
Rated PG for some scary moments
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English (dub) DTS-HD MA 5.1
Included: Blu-ray, DVD
Bonus features: C+

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, as I have, that they were “ruined” somehow by the relentlessly chipper, happily-ever-after romanticism they absorbed during a steady childhood diet of Disney cartoons and animated features.

Well, there’s a cure for that. Start with a dose of irreverent Warner Bros. classic cartoons, and then be sure to watch occasional animated features from different countries, where you’ll discover a world that’s not so black and white, morally speaking.

That’s certainly the case with Ernest & Celestine, which received a 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. Ninety-eight out of 100 critics at Rotten Tomatoes pronounced it “fresh,” and Ernest & Celestine won a number of prizes, including Best Picture at Amsterdam Cinekid Festival, Prix SACD Special Mention at the Cannes Film Festival, Best Animated Film at the César Awards, People’s Choice Award at the Dubai International Film Festival, and Best Film (the first animated feature to win) at the Magritte Awards. In other words, people loved this film.

My family, on the other hand, was not as enamored. Maybe we’re just too Disneyfied. A reviewer for People Magazine called Ernest & Celestine “Fantastic! Delightful! Adorable!” and we’d concede that there were fantastic, delightful, and adorable moments, and that this film had the kind of sweetness and charm that you find in watercolor-illustrated children’s books. But there were also kind of creepy parts, and the wholesome theme of friendship that critics have seized upon is balanced by the not-so-wholesome thieving ways of the two main characters.  

Celestine is an orphaned mouse that lives under an unspecified French city in mouse metropolis orphanage where a no-nonsense nurse apparently reads them the same bedtime story every day: Bears (who live in the above-ground world) are bad, and they eat mice by the thousands. But Celestine doesn’t believe the scary stories and has visions of everyone just getting along. An artist, she draws a prescient picture of a bear and mouse together, in friendship. Then one day, as she and other mice are sent out to find teeth for the mouse dentists to use a replacements (the species depends on strong teeth for survival) she finds a candy store where the bear family lives in the top floor. She manages to grab the baby cub’s lost tooth, but is chased by the growly father bear and falls into a trashcan.

ErnestandCelestinescreenCelestine is discovered by a reclusive, grumpy bear named Ernest who scrounges and, as far as we can tell, also tries to make a living as a one-man bear band. Ernest’s impulse is to eat Celestine, but she shows him the candy store and helps him get into the basement so he can satisfy his hunger. And how does he repay her? By, of course, helping her break into a bear dentist office to steal her quota of teeth. As the mug shots on the cover suggest, police get involved, so apart from the icky aspect of gathering teeth there’s a bit of lawbreaking in this animated feature, so parents be warned. You might have some explaining to do if you have small, impressionable children.

Though the film was originally screened in French (and that French soundtrack is an option here), the default on this Special Edition Blu-ray is the English dubbed version featuring the voice talents of Forest Whitaker, Mackenzie Foy, Lauren Bacall, Paul Giamatti, and William H. Macy, and because of the style of animation the dub really doesn’t stand out. What stands out is a curious blend of charm and tooth-obsessed strangeness, and a wholesome message about friendship that’s somewhat tainted by the characters’ Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid antics, but illustrated in a gentle style and with wonderfully subtle-yet-vibrant music.