In a kids’ entertainment landscape flooded with massive Pixar releases, big animated musicals and a surfeit of superheroes, you might think there’s little room left for an old-fashioned episodic animated comedy. The Big Bad Fox begs to differ.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from this quirky tale of farmyard oddballs. Originally created for French audiences and brought to the UK via Studiocanal, the British dub boasts a cast including Matthew Goode, Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus and Celia Imrie. A community performance from a local am dram group provides a loose narrative frame to hold together three half-hour tales set on a rural farm. A bungled stork baby delivery, the unexpected results of a rather inept fox stalking a henhouse and a mission to save Christmas might seem to have little in common except their characters – but, as one of the chickens sagely comments, they’re all really about “the things we do for love”. (Wait, I feel like I’ve written that before…).
The absolute bullseye for The Big Bad Fox is likely ages four to eight – too old for Peppa Pig, too young for the MCU – but viewers of all ages who come along for the ride will still find themselves pleasantly amused. The slapstick stories are genuinely funny, with a depth of charm and sprinkling of parent jokes that’s reminiscent of Aardman (I might find myself using the phrase ‘remember that weekend in Bruges?’ euphemistically from now on). The comedy is daft, yes, but never patronising. There were several proper laughs from adults and tweens in the audience, and halfway through my almost-8yo leaned over to whisper “I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but this is so much better than I thought it would be” before launching into another round of hearty cackles at pratfalls and farce. She also nerded out gleefully over some of the smart details; having done a topic on pop art at school this past year she smugly pointed out the Warhol-inspired artwork on one character’s bedroom wall.
Best of all, there’s bags of heart to balance out the silliness, and the performances are surprising restrained – and all the better for it. Justin Edwards’ Pig is the opposite of the bolshy, James Corden-style protagonist so common in this style of film; instead we get a masterclass in brilliant, gentle comedy, as the put-upon porcine becomes the Bilbo Baggins of the farmyard – a fussy helicopter parent to Bill Bailey’s dim Duck and Adrian Edmondson’s madcap Rabbit. Giles New’s frustrated fox riffs cannily on notions of masculinity, stereotyped expectations and new parenthood, rapidly softened by the relentless attentions of some hilariously misguided chicks. And yes, it turns out Matthew Goode is still outrageously attractive even as an animated wolf. Who knew?
With the episodic format making it a gift for family home viewing – “you can watch one of the stories before bed, but not all of them!” – and the sweetly silly Santa storyline, I can see this becoming a TV Christmas classic in years to come. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by how a handful of simple barnyard tales with no musical bells and whistles to break the pace could hold their own so deftly and keep their young audience’s fidgets at bay for an hour and a half.
One final word of warning for the Santa true believers, though; there are some animals who like to insist that Father Christmas is made up. But don’t worry – they learn the truth soon enough.
The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales is on UK general release from August 3rd.
Our thanks to Organic PR and Studiocanal for inviting us to a fun family screening. All opinions are our own.