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A lively trio of cartoons that are wacky, heartwarming and wise, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (Le grand mechant renard et autres contes) showcases an animal farm like no other: The titular fox is far less cunning than he is both kind and nurturing, a duck has no idea how to actually swim, a lizard shows up out of nowhere and starts speaking Mandarin and a stork is far too lazy to deliver the baby in its beak.
Those are just some of the characters populating this second feature from director Benjamin Renner (working here with animator Patrick Imbert), whose Ernest & Celestine was one of the more memorable animated movies to come out of France a few years back, earning a Cesar Award and an Oscar nomination. This time the source material is different, with Renner adapting his own best-selling comic book in a tone that’s equal parts Tex Avery and Dr. Seuss, with a bit of Adult Swim thrown into the mix. The result is lots of fun, if less compelling and cohesive than the last film, which should make it a shoo-in with Gallic tykes as they head into the summer vacation.
Co-written by Jean Regnaud, all three stories feature animals that have a hard time fulfilling their traditional roles, whether it’s on the farm or in the forest. They could all also probably use a dose of Ritalin, so much do they seem constantly agitated and incapable of chilling out for as much as a second.
In the first tale (“A Baby to Deliver”), a feckless stork leaves a baby in the hands of a rabbit, a pig and a duck, urging them to make the delivery in his place. The second and longest story (“The Big Bad Fox”), based on Renner’s comic, follows a fox scrounging around for food and winding up — not unlike Seuss’ Horton Hatches an Egg — with a set of baby chicks to take care of, proving he may be a better at child-rearing than at hunting. In the third section (“The Perfect Christmas”), the animals mistakenly think they’ve killed Santa Claus and try their awful best to replace him.
Each part offers an array of slapstick gags, snappy dialogue and winks at pop culture — including a possible reference to Fargo in the Christmas story — though behind all the chaos lies a rather sentimental core, especially in the fable where the hungry fox is constantly tempted to eat the very infants he’s falling in love with. Renner and Imbert spend more time dishing out jokes than they do weaving the kind of meaningful narrative that made Ernest & Celestine so special, yet while Fox is more of a slaphappy romp than a morality play, there’s still a method to the madness.
Like the last film, the old-school 2D animation is especially impressive and sticks very close to Renner’s original drawings. Characters’ features only seem to be partially rendered at times, as if we’re watching a cartoonist’s sketchpad in motion, and the effect creates a whirligig of nonstop action from start to finish. Keeping the pace is a playful score by Robert Marcel Lepage (Cesar winner Fatima), while a clever stage setting is used to introduce each story — as well as providing a quick encore in which the major players all take a bow before the show inevitably goes on.
Production companies: Folivari, Panique!, StudioCanal
Cast: Celine Ronte, Boris Rehlinger, Guillaume Bouchede, Guillaume Darnault, Magali Rosenzweig, Elise Noiraud, Jules Bienvenu
Directors: Benjamin Renner, Patrick Imbert
Screenwriters: Benjamin Renner, Jean Regnaud, based on the comic book by Benjamin Renner
Producers: Didier Brunner, Vincent Tavier
Production designers: Zyk, Zaza
Editor: Benjamin Massoubre
Composer: Robert Marcel Lepage
Casting director: Celine Ronte
Animation director: Patrick Imbert
Venue: Annecy Film Festival (Screening Events)
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