The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse Review: A Wonderful Gift
Jan 11, 2023
We live in a fast-paced world. Distractions around every corner, followed closely by judgments, and opinions, which naturally leads to division. Social media does its best to make you feel less than others, to make sure you know that you should be doing what everyone else is doing, and that you are likely missing out on something. Should you be yourself? In all the messiness of modern life, do you even know who “yourself” really is? These stresses are nothing new, of course, if Earth is the place you call home, but we really don’t take the time to acknowledge any of it. It’s almost like we go out of our way to not get to know who we really are. At a time when disgruntled discourse and disingenuous behavior seem to be all the rage, Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse works wonders as the unofficial antidote to those inevitable moments of self-doubt.
A quick glance at the film’s artwork and straightforward title, and it’s easy to assume that this is a movie geared toward children. Its on-the-surface-simple premise about a lost boy trying to find home with the help of some animals also supports that idea. But shortly into this 35-minute delight, you realize that this movie’s universal message defies any age group. That’s just part of the many reasons why this story has touched so many people around the world. Mackesy, the British illustrator and author behind the 2019 international bestseller on which this short film is based, has made it clear through his simple yet profound storytelling that he wants to challenge the way we think. This is a daring and almost delusional concept to even dream up today, though the film does so effortlessly via its whimsical, hand-drawn animation and sparse dialogue.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse never loses sight of its intentions, making it an incredibly refreshing outlier in such an oversaturated medium. There is virtually no world-building and thus no need for exposition, something many animated projects get far too caught up in. The relatively plain color palette—which for the most part consists of shades of white, blue, and gold—contributes to the film’s sophistication. Thanks to the innocence and curiosity in the voice and behavior of the Boy (Jude Coward Nicoll) and his first friend the Mole (Tom Hollander), Mackesy’s profound ideas are rather palatable. One could argue that the film’s plot is too generic, but it’s the lack of specifics and high stakes that makes the simple world so immersive. After some time enjoying nature and appreciating each other’s company, the Boy and the Mole encounter the Fox (Idris Elba), who does his best to match the intensity of his outward appearance by not showing an interest in and even threatening them. His bravado is a sharp contrast to the Horse (Gabriel Byrne), who’s afraid to be great and maximize his own potential, resulting in him hiding in plain sight.
Image via Apple TV+
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Everyone can relate to feeling lost or “not enough,” but do we ever talk about it? Given the fact that there are very pregnant pauses between some of the loaded observations, typically from the Horse or Mole (sure to go over the heads of many kids), you can’t help but reflect and be present from start to finish. That, plus the fact that there is also no clearly defined antagonist forces you to look inward (the closest antagonist coming when the human and his animal friends get caught up in a brief storm). The majority of the time, we are the ones holding ourselves back, which is a very difficult thing for anyone to admit. In fact, the film is sure to highlight the importance of emotions and how identifying them in yourself is far easier said than done. “Sometimes I want to say, ‘I love you all,’ but I find it difficult…so I say something like, ‘I’m glad we’re all here,’” the Mole admits. Similarly, when the Boy lets go of the Horse as it galloped through the snow, he tumbled into the river, forcing the four of them to pause their journey. The Boy’s teary reaction goes to show how we can be our own worst critic, which elicits one of many thought-provoking and wise lines of the film. “Tears fall for a reason,” the Horse whispers, “and they’re your strength, not weakness.” Mackesy’s delicate and intimate world doubles nicely as an incredible meditation.
Yes, there is the adorable mole who is sure to remind us of his love of cake at the most unpredictable and inappropriate times (his use of “lemon drizzle” as an expletive is just precious), though other than that cute and sweet detail, it feels at times like characters are speaking directly to an adult audience. I know, I know, I just said a few sentences ago that this film applied to anyone and everyone, no matter the age. That still holds true! But some themes and layered bits of dialogue can only be appreciated by someone who has experienced the best and worst that life has to offer. “When the big things feel out of control, focus on what you love, right under your nose. This storm shall pass,” the Horse tells the overwhelmed Boy during the storm. Another one of the deeper correspondences is when the Boy asks the Horse, with genuine curiosity, what the bravest thing he ever said was. After a pause, the Horse says, “Help. Asking for help isn’t giving up. It’s refusing to give up.”
Fans of Mackesy’s book will be utterly delighted to see that the hand-drawn illustrations translate beautifully to the screen without losing any of its neat-yet-messy aesthetic. Because the lines are literally pulled from the pages of the detailed original work, the movie feels less like a short film with a progressing story and more like a moving book. It doesn’t have the same pacing or plot propulsion that a typical short would, but that just adds to the charm of it. A thoughtful score by Isobel Waller-Bridge, and partial writing credit from Paddington 2 writer Jon Croker all blend together to make the irresistible end product. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is poised to be a new holiday tradition.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is available to stream on Apple TV+ on December 25.
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