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I could easily list a platoon of family films that I loved as a kid, but I'd struggle to call most of them "timeless".

Nowadays, progressive parents might shield their children from Sleeping Beauty because of its ancient view on gender roles or The Lion King because of its ultra-capitalist leanings.

But no one's personal allegiances can affect the purity of Ernest & Celestine, an old-fashioned charmer about the unbreakable value of friendship.

The hand-drawn animation is downright gorgeous, drenching every frame in watercolour to make it look like a children's picture book in motion. Originally voiced by French actors, the English dubbing is flawless - a rare feat for foreign films - with a perfectly pitched Forest Whitaker as growly, lethargic Ernest and Mackenzie Foy as sly, squeaky Celestine. The leads are aided by vocal veterans Paul Giamatti (Turbo), William H. Macy (The Wind Rises), Megan Mullally (Bob's Burgers) and Nick Offerman (The Lego Movie).


Ernest is one bitter bear, singing songs on the street about how poor and hungry he is to a crowd who couldn't care less. Celestine is a forward-thinking mouse, questioning why she's being taught to fear bears while the other young mice simply accept it. Appropriately, the two outcasts meet each other in a pile of thrown-out rubbish, where Celestine slaps Ernest for rudely trying to eat her.

Their first encounter is one of many scenes that take you in with unfathomable cuteness while refusing to surrender wit for easy jokes.

There's a simple joy, for kids especially, in seeing Ernest chase birds away from his bread-crumb breakfast. There's also a surprisingly multifaceted joy, for adults only, in hearing a father bear break down his ruthless business model to his son (he sells kids candy to fuel his wife's dental practice).

But the greatest pleasure comes with seeing a lonely pair become friends, even when their towns wrongly believe they cannot. Yes, it's a simple lesson, but when simplicity is told with beauty, charm and elegance, it can capture the hearts of any generation. That's exactly what Ernest & Celestine does, and that's what makes it timeless.

Liam Maguren, contributing writer