The Fox and the Child

Bonne Pioche/Pathé Distribution
Luc Jacquet/France 2007

Director Luc Jacquet seems to have an incredible affinity for the natural world. Worldwide smash March of the Penguins proved his ability to get up close with animals in a way we can all relate to. So after years spent freezing in Antarctica to tremendous acclaim, what next? With The Fox and The Child, he attempts a modern day fairy tale.

Animals and children go together like, well, a boy and his dog. Although for many modern children, the closest such relationship they will know will be via a Disney heroine and her adorable sidekick, or Donkey from Shrek. What this film sets out to do is dispel the myths small children might have about wildlife – a courageous thing to do in a time where every animal is anthropomorphised and marketed in a hundred different ways.

The titular, unnamed child (Bertille Noël-Bruneau, who has gorgeous red hair and a open, charming face) lives with her unseen parents in a wooden house with a round window in her bedroom. This is in the middle of a big forest which she crosses alone by bike every day traveling to and from school. Over the course of a year, she goes out exploring with a little satchel, encountering every creature in the animal kingdom from hedgehogs to bears. This is pure fantasy delight for small children, who can imagine what they would do if they were allowed such freedom and lack of parental interference. Kate Winslet’s saccharine narration and the repeated reaction shots of the girl reminded me of Teletubbies, but I’m too old for that show, too.

As an adult, the only interest is in trying to work out how Sabine Emiliani edited the scenes with the girl and a wolf pack to make them so seamless. There’s obvious CGI in some of the nighttime scenes, but for the most part they have very cleverly shot this the old-fashioned way. The other wonders are the foxes themselves – several different animals play the titular creature with which the child develops a rapport.

However, in the screening I attended, the way the rapport between the girl and the fox ends caused half the adults to jump, and it reduced the only child present to uncontrollable crying for the rest of the film. Was this shocking ending – there is a coda, but never mind – done deliberately? Sure, it’s important to teach children the difference between wild and tame animals, but is this a lesson that modern suburban children, who barely see a squirrel, should learn like this? Considering my eight-year-old nephew had screaming nightmares after seeing a wild fox on my street, I wonder how close it’s wise to allow children and wild animals to be, even on screen.

© 2008 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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