Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
THE BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES
The best thing about the medium of animation is its uncanny ability to make the irreverent universalities of life pop. It’s here where filmmakers can really amp up the slapstick, pratfalls and absurdity with a nihilistic gumption at heart. With THE BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES, directors Patrick Imbert and Benjamin Renner properly channel the ghosts of Chuck Jones, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, creating an utterly adorable, endearing and wonderful all-ages feature that’s as much a love letter to the hand-drawn art form as it is to comedy in general.
Structured a little like some kind of newfangled THE MUPPET SHOW, one starring a fox as the exhausted emcee, it introduces the audience to three separate short stories: “Baby Delivery,” in which a clever farmer pig, a dimwitted duck and rascally rabbit must deliver a baby to Avignon; “The Big Bad Fox,” in which a hungry fox softens when three small chickadees enter his life; and “Saving Christmas,” in which the pig, rabbit and duck are tasked with, you guessed it, saving the holiday from disaster. Along with the connective tissue that spotlights overzealous actors and the chaos of theater life, the three tales bequeath us with laughter and poignancy galore, exploring the many facets of comedy within each raucous tale.
Imbert, Renner and their animators add animal-specific humor better than THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS and SING. The duck who can’t swim and the hijinks that ensue from this set-up are ingenious. That tale also nails the double act bit between the straight-man, or in this case pig, and the funny feathered and furry foils. There’s also a twinge of humor to be gleaned from the audacity of a pig keeping a farm in pristine condition. The way in which the filmmakers contextualize location when the trio get trapped in a box is great because it keeps the character’s perspectives at the forefront of the action. They can’t see their surroundings and neither can we.
The second tale featuring the dog and fox, who are literally hen-pecked by a bossy hen whose babies go missing, is just as alive as the first. The colorful day shots are just as whimsical as the blue-covered nighttime ones. This is also the most Looney Tunes-esque portion, what with the dynamite bit between the hen and fox recalling the playful antagonist relationship between Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote – at least very briefly. The filmmakers are extremely careful never to dip too far into homage. The “Wolf’s Theme” from PETER AND THE WOLF played upon the wolf’s appearance is a perfect needle drop. On the whole, they magnificently squeeze in other subtle nods to MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, PSYCHO and E.T.: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL.
Though the third short story may rank a step below the previous two, it does manage to squeak out slight lessons about Yuletide cheer and exercising patience with those who need to learn. The filmmakers blessedly follow the comedy rule of threes here with the lawnmower bit. The sad trombone sound effect goes far, as do the X’s for eyes when the pig is knocked unconscious.
Altogether enchanting, THE BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES is a joyful return to hand-drawn animation with beautiful, delicate watercolor aesthetics that beguile. Your greatest takeaway will be a full heart – but the recipe for some killer crepes that runs during the end credits might also fill your belly.
THE BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES played the Animation is Film Festival on October 21. GKIDS will be releasing this, this winter.