Before The Fox and the Child began, me and the five other people in the theatre were forced to watch several trailers for what looked like more of those crass, celebrity-populated animated movies. Through this, it’s clear at what market they’re trying (and evidently failing, says the size of the audience) to catch with this movie. But while it is indeed true that The Fox and the Child is, at least in its British incarnation, a movie for children, there’s little of the grossness or hollowness of the flagging trend of the aforementioned animations. By no means perfect, The Fox and the Child is a type of kid’s entertainment that doesn‘t seem to exist anymore- it’s gentle without being too naïve, slow without being sluggish, and moral without being patronising. Technically, there are problems to pick out- but for children, this seems almost a necessary entertainment, a fairytale that ends with an important life lesson, and an uncommon connection to the reality of the natural world of today.
The film is self-evidently not British, although with the gentle (and, dare I admit it, occasionally irritatingly precious) narration of Kate Winslet as the grown version of the girl (Bertille Noel-Bruneau) who is the only human on-screen for the entirety of the film, you could be forgiven for thinking so. But I don’t believe we have many bears in this country; and there’s also the rather terrible dubbing of the girl herself, who clearly isn’t saying what we’re being told she is. These are minor nitpicks, though, as are the occasional editing missteps (the most prominent being the sudden growth of a ladder, and then the difference between the night and morning the girl spends in the forest), and to dwell on them would be churlish. What is perhaps more problematic is the question of how the filmmakers achieved some of the footage we’re shown. One particular scene of the fox being chased by what I think was a bobcat is shown in such close, intimate detail that you have to assume it was constructed, and I suppose, if we don’t doubt any ethics here (which would surely be unfair), that the fact that I’m questioning it at all is testament to the superb assembly of such a moment. Undoubtedly the camerawork, at least when dealing with the animals, is outstanding- we get not only beautiful, varied shots of the fox(es), but of all sorts of animals from badgers to wolves to hedgehogs. Maybe preaching that wild animals cannot, and should not, be tamed, while using tamed animals to portray this is hypocritical, but I’m not an ethics committee and I can only assume that some of the French words that rose before me at the end told me that no animals had been harmed in the making.
Luc Jacquet, the director of 2005’s favourite documentary March of the Penguins, reportedly took the inspiration from a real-life story, and sometimes the story structure does feel appropriately rugged in its construction. That said, Jacquet seems to be doing everything he can do set it all up as a fairytale, since the girl seems, for most of the film, to be the only one in existence, and even though there are occasional flirtations with the grim reality of the wild world (poachers), for the most part it’s a bizarre love story between the girl and the fox- apt enough, given the title. And as such, it works. As I said, it’s not naïve about what happens to the girl who unwisely becomes obsessed with a wild animal, but nor is it entirely unromantic. Wildlife is beautiful, Jacquet is saying, but to be approached with caution. B-