Very cute and only 80 minutes long, Ernest & Celestine still seems interminable. Drawn in a storybook style and shaded mostly in the monochromatic colors of winter, TK’s film tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a very hungry bear who wishes he could have been on the stage and a smart, observant mouse who wants to be an artist, even though everyone around her prefers she become a dentist. The two creatures each live in their own worlds, and then they meet. The bears are upstairs in a nice bourgeois French village and the rodents exist beneath the ground in a highly sophisticated realm around the sewers. People who saw the Aardman Studios first 3-D film, Flushed Away, will experience slight déjà vu.
But Ernest & Celestine doesn’t just drag because if its dearth of the kind of slapstick action we associate with cartooning. (Indeed, there’s a funny chase scene smack in the middle of the story.) This film suffers because of the completely tame notion that propels the whole thing forward. Maybe it seems that incongruous companions is a good and noble theme, but you don’t have to look far in the annals of American animation to find turtles obeying rat masters, a tiger accompanying a brave bunny or, in the most obvious case of all, a romantic French skunk hell-bent on seducing an unwary kitty cat. It’s just a bit shopworn at this point to carry a whole story. Nonetheless, the scenery is pretty, the drawings are sweet, and the message — never live by the directives of easy prejudice — ought to be always welcome in any heart.
Ernest & Celestinescreens at Plaza de Oro (371 Hitchcock Wy.) on Wednesday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Showcase Film Series.