The BBC’s latest Julia Donaldson animated special is sort of like the fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” but the freeloader is more criminal and predatory. He rides the highway, “occupying” the food all the other animals have harvested and saved—and yes, he is a rat. The old rogue will gorge himself in Jeroen Jaspaert’s The Highway Rat, which screens as part of the Shorts for Tots program at the 2018 New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Donaldson’s stories are certainly accessible for young viewers, but as usual, Highway Rat has a voice cast that will appeal to parents. Like previous Magic Light Pictures productions, including Room on the Broom and the Gruffalo and Revolting Rhymes films, Rob Brydon leads the vocal ensemble, this time serving as the narrator, in the Hans Conried tradition. It is none other than the old Doctor, David Tennant, giving voice to the rat—and what a rat he is.
We see plenty of the rat’s plundering. He really wants pastries, but he still chews up their vegetables, just out of spite. The situation is getting dire, but the duck has an idea. Usually, ducks aren’t so bright, but this one is different.
Frankly, it is a little surprising the festival isn’t playing up Highway Rat more, considering the voice talent involved and the Oscar track record of previous Magic Light/BBC specials. Regardless, this is an enjoyable film, with an admirable takeaway: hard work and productivity are more rewarding than parasitic redistribution. Plus, the comeuppance is kind of clever.
Clocking in at a broadcast-friendly twenty-five minutes, Highway Rat is definitely the centerpiece of the Shorts for Tots program. There are enough furry animals and the quality of the animation (not Studio Ghibli, but still colorful and faithful to Axel Scheffler’s original illustrations) is high enough to satisfy most animation fans. Highly recommended for family viewing, The Highway Rat screens this Saturday (3/3) and Sunday (3/4), as well as March 10th, 11th, 17th, and 18th, during this year’s NYICFF.