Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, on Apple TV+

Homecoming is a staple theme of holiday specials, but unlike Pa Walton, this unnamed Boy does not know where home is. Yet, he is determined to find it. His journey will be more of a fable than an adventure, especially considering his ability to talk to his animal companions in Peter Baynton’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and The Horse, produced by J.J. Abrams, which premieres tomorrow on Apple TV+.

When the Boy wakes up in the forest, he has no idea how he got there or where he lives. Fortunately, he runs into the Mole, who has all kinds of helpful ideas, like following the river to the human settlement. Initially, the Boy must protect the Mole from the Fox, but when the little mammal frees his predator from a hunter’s snare, he starts to trail after them, shyly. The going gets easier once the Horse joins up with them, especially when they need a wind-break from the storm.

Co-adapted by Charlie Mackesy from his children’s book,
The Boy etc. features some platitude heavy-dialogue, by Tom Hollander manages to sell some of the clunkiest, fridge-worthy banalities, with his warmly sensitive voice-over performance as the Mole (he even sort of looks like a mole in real-life). It is sort of like the Pooh stories at their most Taoist, pushing the envelope of New Age schmaltz. However, the stylish animation, derived from Mackesy’s original illustrations, is quite elegant.

It is nice to see the BBC continue their tradition of producing animated specials for the Christmas season, based on popular kids’ books
  (in this case, with Abrams’ Bad Robot). Running a full thirty-five minutes, Boy etc. is about ten minutes longer than most of the Julia Donaldson specials (like those featuring Zog or the Gruffalo), but the slower pace should soothe rather than energize very young viewers. In addition to Hollander, “The Boy and the Menagerie” also features the voices of Idris Elba as the Fox and Gabriel Byrne as the Horse. However, there is no question Hollander’s voice is the most dominant.

This is a lovely looking special and Isobel Waller-Bridge’s score is suitably delicate, but still distinctive. It means desperately well, but it inherits all of the sentimentality of its source material. Recommended for the animation,
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse starts streaming Christmas Day on Apple TV+. Merry Christmas.