‘Eagerly anticipated’ doesn’t come close to describing how much I was looking forward to this film. I’m an absolute sucker for an animal documentary, plus this English-language version is narrated by Kate Winslet, who never seems to put a foot wrong. By the twenty-minute mark, however, I was ready to gnaw off my own fingers.
Jacquet has apparently based the story on his own experiences as a young boy and it’s clear we are in the hands of someone who is fascinated by wildlife. The footage of the various critters featured in the film is always impressive, sometimes remarkable and the French Alpine scenery is stunning. The canine star is super-cute, with an uncanny range of facial expressions and a winning personality that prompted sighs of pleasure from members of the audience.
We are treated to plenty of other furry friends, including a perilous encounter with a pack of wolves and the one genuinely exciting sequence in the film, when the fox is pursued by a hungry lynx. It shouldn’t matter that the story and excitement are slight – after all, we are here to marvel at the animals, right?
So why is so much attention paid to the kid? She doesn’t do anything particularly interesting, but we spend a lot of time with her, as she skips merrily through leafy glades giggling to herself. She is obviously meant to be our window into this world, but it’s hard to resist the urge to shove her off the side of the mountain and just focus on the fox.
It isn’t the fault of the young actress – she’s naturalistic and appealing; a Bjork-like pixie who clearly has a tremendous bond with her four-legged co-stars. It’s just that we don’t need her to be there and ultimately, the focus on her detracts from our appreciation of the animal action.
Even worse, the tone of this is all wrong. It’s a queasy mix of forced humour and knowing narration, not unlike the sort of thing that Disney churned out in the 1960s. For a present-day audience, accustomed to an Attenborough’s-eye view of the animal kingdom, this is dreadfully clunky and laboured.
Some of this would be forgivable if the film’s message was resonant enough to brush aside any concerns about the delivery. But the final portion of the film, as the fox finds increasing danger in human company, is pretty risible and I suspect will disturb younger members of the audience. We are offered a happy ending of sorts, but the means by which we reach it leave a nasty aftertaste – the credits assure us that no animals were harmed during the making of the picture, but the fox’s distress in the latter part of the film is worryingly convincing.
At times just plain tedious, it’s hard to understand who this film is for. I suspect it’s the kind of thing parents will think their kids should see and in a kiddie-film marketplace that is crowded with noisy animated flicks or Zac Efron offering glimpses of his terrifying abs, I was hoping to recommend this as something a little bit different. And it is different, just in a bad way.
Reviews by The All Knowing I