The Big Bad Fox & the joys of simple animation

B Animated family fare
Written by Benjamin Renner and Jean Regnaud
Directed by Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert

Note: I saw this family comedy last year before it screened at the SFFIM Festival. It never got a theatrical fun in the Bay Area. It appears it won’t get one.  But it will be available on home video soon.  I’m publishing the review now.

Simple, abstract, limited, hand-drawn animation can’t provide the visual beauty, life-like movements, and complex facial expressions of classic Disney or today’s Pixar. But what it can offer unpretentious, exaggerated slapstick with a perfect sense of timing. And that’s just fine for The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, a family movie with no intentions but to make you laugh.

And more often than not, it succeeds.

As the title tells you, The Big Bad Fox isn’t one story, but a selection. The three tales focus on the animals in and around an unnamed farm. Humans rarely show up, and usually make things worse when they do. These are stories of talking animals, wild and domesticated, taking on responsibilities that someone else (usually homo sapiens) should have taken.

In the first story, the stork accidentally drops a new-born human into the hands of a rabbit, a duck, and a pig – which sounds suspiciously like an homage to Loony Tunes. These thickheaded but essentially goodhearted creatures know where the baby was supposed to be delivered, so they set off on a quest. Naturally, they do everything wrong. They invite a wolf to help them. They hop in the back of a butcher’s truck. They end up on a plane going to China. And everything is done with over-the-top but perfectly-timed slapstick.

The title story comes second, and it’s the best one of the bunch. The fox of the title is hardly big and bad. He’s a wimp, so bad at stealing chickens that he’s reduced to eating turnips. He manages to steal three eggs, with a plan to hatch them, fatten up the birds, and eat them. But when the chicks hatch, they look right at him and declare him “mommy.” No way he’s going to eat these darlings.

But he’s stuck. The truly big and bad wolf (the only true villain in the movie) expects the fox to share his meal of young chicken. And back on the farm, the adult chickens have organized an effective anti-fox brigade. They had no other choice; the very lazy dog won’t lift a paw to protect the chicks.

The third story, a Christmas tale, is the weakest. The rabbit, duck, and pig from the first story think they killed Father Christmas (Santa Claus in American English). So they set out to do his work for him. It has its moments, but it doesn’t measure up the first two stories.

Stay through the credits. You’ll be rewarded, and not with a promise for a bad sequel.

This is a French film, and I saw it with English subtitles. You’ll have a choice to see it either way.