While the Oscars are currently scheduled for April, we would normally be in Oscar Month by now. Thus, I wanted to do a "Round 2" of the animated Academy Award nominees from past years that tend to go overlooked. Our first example is a lovely little French film called 'Ernest & Celestine' (which I watched the English dub of). This one lost to 'Frozen' in 2013, and also had to deal with the likes of 'Despicable Me 2', 'The Croods' and Ghibli's 'The Wind Rises'. In other words, it didn't really stand a chance. But with that said, I can easily still recommend it for the right audience.
As the film opens, we are introduced to a young mouse named Celestine (Pauline Brunner/Mackenzie Foy) who lives in an underground world at an orphanage. Their caretaker; "The Gray One" (Anne-Marie Loop/Lauren Bacall) tells the orphan children foreboding stories at night about the bears who live above them. Celestine has her doubts about the "must-eat" nature of these bears, but the stories are nevertheless effectively creepy. In this rodent world, all rodents study dentistry, as good teeth used for building and burrowing are key to their lifestyle. The children are to go up to the surface and act as "mouse tooth fairies", collecting bear cub teeth which these mouse dentists use as replacement rodent incisors. Celestine isn't altogether interested, however, and would rather do something artistic.
When she is told by the Head Dentist (Dominique Collignon/William H. Macy) that she's severely behind on her tooth quota, Celestine heads to the surface and is chased into a trash can by a family of bears, where she is found by a destitute and reclusive bear named Ernest (Lambert Wilson/Forest Whitaker). Celestine eventually convinces him to help her out by robbing a dental office of its extracted teeth. At first, things go swimmingly. Celestine is praised for her tooth-collecting, and there's cause for celebration, until the rodents find Ernest in their midst and blame Celestine for bringing him. The pair are chased out, and soon find themselves on the run - Celestine for bringing Ernest down into their world, and Ernest for his thievery.
As one can probably tell out of context, this is very much a movie that portrays different societal understandings of different cultures. This is a world where a city of bears and an underground community of rodents pretty much hate each other, yet the rodents rely on the bears to provide them with teeth, and the bears simply see the rodents in the same way many humans see them as vermin. As sad as it is to say, we can make that symbolic towards some people when it comes to race, culture, creed, lifestyle, gender, the list goes on. It may not be a new and different thing to watch with the way things are today, as many movies are providing many messages in recent years (and the fight still goes on). But this was 2012, and though I'm not 100% on it, I don't think the message it conveys was as out there as it is now.
All in all, I enjoyed this one. It provides a pretty interesting atmosphere in that it seems to flip-flop things. The underground rodent world is so dark and creepy, but they are the ones who fear the above-ground world which is essentially just bears doing regular human stuff. I further appreciate the simplistic 2-D animation, proving once again that sometimes less is more. Some of the decisions made in the animators' artistry are genuinely beautiful, and really stand out. I particularly enjoy one final shot of the film that's incredibly minimalist, but provides an image that sort of says it all. I can recommend this largely for a younger audience, but I'd be hard-pressed to say adults wouldn't get anything out of it just as well. I'm still not entirely sure I'd say it's even that Oscar-worthy, but its a positive film worth checking out in one's spare time, nonetheless.