“Let it blossom, let it flow. That’s life.”
Told in a quaint, almost Aesopian way, Benjamin Renner’s The Big Bad Fox (French: Le Grand Méchant Renard et autres contes, 2017) takes the front stage to introduce its audience to three separate stories about the secret lives and adventures of a group of adorable little farm animals. Prone to mischief and disasters, the hand-drawn figures, with their all-human traits, offer an alternative anthology to computer-animated productions. The French-Belgian co-production results in a low-key comedy that looks like an ever-changing watercolour painting.
Our fox walks on stage and ushers us into the picturesque countryside, where the stories that unfold feature more or less the same set of actors. In the first one, a lazy stork tries to skip work by getting a pig, a duck and a rabbit to deliver the baby in his place. The second story is about the cunning big bad fox of the woods, who discovers its big good heart when it unexpectedly becomes the mother of three young chicks. The final story sees the goofy trio return, with the rabbit and duck convinced this time that they killed Santa, and it is upon them to save Christmas for all children around the world.
After the enchanting short film A Mouse’s Tale (French: La queue de las souris, 2008) and his Oscar-nominated work in Ernest & Célestine (2012), the French cartoonist and animator returns to hand-drawn animal characters that take on fully humanised behaviours and emotions, commonly shown in many recent productions. By opting for a 2D design and a soft palette of colours, the three stories are linked by a frame narrative that reminds us of older cartoons and fairy tales.
With the story having been adapted from his own comic books, Renner worked alongside film director and animator Patrick Imbert to breathe some new life into the countryside. The French version is superb, but the English voice cast has done an amazing job with the dubbing as well. The characters are brilliant and cover a broad spectrum of traits to give the impression that despite its comedic notes, the film is deeply rooted in themes of friendship, love and family.
Somewhat reminiscent of The Looney Tunes (1932-1960), but with more intricate dialogue, this film is a perfect Sunday watch – and not just for the really young kids, but also the ones young at heart. Perfectly delivered lines, slapstick humour that will have you in stitches, and numerous cinema references throughout make this into a well-created animation project for kids and parents alike. Leave the closing credits on until all the actors have been presented, and a delicious chestnut crepe recipe appears.
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