The popular French children’s classic is carefully reimagined in this quietly charming hand-drawn animated feature, also from France. It begins in a mouse orphanage where a strict governess keeps her charges in line with a nightly scary bear story. (The neat straight lines of little mouse cots suggests MADELINE also gets an occasional reading.) Only little Celestine bucks the system, imagining that the mice world below ground and the bear world above, needn’t make them natural enemies. (METROPOLIS/’27, anyone?) After all, there’s already an established symbiotic relationship with lost baby-bear teeth collected at night for use as replacements for missing mouse incisors. And Celestine soon gets a chance to prove her theory when she gets stuck above ground over-night and is found by Ernest the very hungry bear. But even should they work things out, will the bear society and the mouse society let them be friends? The problem for the creative team is similar to what the Disney artists faced adapting WINNIE THE POOH back in the ‘60s.* How to transfer the watercolor wash drawing style of the books off the page and onto the big screen? Keeping the essence while adding enough volume so characters work as weight-bearing figures in motion. This is all neatly handled by directors Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner; it’s the storyline that keeps fading in and out. (And, on the English-language track, an all-star vocal team far less apt than the French-language cast.) Best for the fanciful underground mouse world, and for one scary and one wintry flight of visual fancy.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Attention from the lyric translator, that is. The English-language track puts the accent on the first syllable of Ernest (ERN-est). But when this bear sings his street-musician spiel, we switch to French pronunciation (er-NEST) to match the melody’s scansion. Sacré bleu! Sloppy, sloppy.
DOUBLE-BILL: * At 25 minutes, WINNIE THE POOH AND THE BLUSTERY DAY/’66, the first of that series, makes a great companion piece. And talk about perfect vocal casting!