The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (2022)
Directors: Peter Baynton, Charlie Mackesy
Screenwriters: Charlie Mackesy, Jon Croker
Starring: Jude Coward Nicoll, Tom Hollander, Idris Elba, Gabriel Byrne
The BBC and Apple TV+ animated children’s story book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is 2023’s all-star offering in the Oscars’ Animated Short category, experienced British and Irish actors Tom Hollander, Idris Elba and Gabriel Byrne lending their voices on the screen, with Emma, The Phantom of the Open and ‘Fleabag’ composer Isobel Waller-Bridge providing the score.
Adapting from the beloved 2019 children’s book of the same name are directors Peter Baynton and the book’s author Charlie Mackesy. Through a beautiful 2D hand-drawn animated style, the pair faithfully bring the illustrated tale to life, the film’s unique “sketch lines still visible” approach an endearing quality that presupposes that imperfections aren’t always bad.
In the case of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, these lines illuminate the animation’s hand-drawn artistry, allowing for a visual spectacle that people of all ages can enjoy alone or, as the film proposes, together.
This is an animated short that offers all the life lessons of a classic children’s novel. We see messages of acceptance, a celebration of kindness, an encouragement of intuition and intrigue, and a heap of wilful self-belief. It then reaches further, offering modern lessons on being emotionally available, open to pain and hurt and anxiety, but loving one’s self all the same. The children watching this film will no doubt have positive lessons reaffirmed, and the adults should feel as if old lessons have been retaught.
The voice work of the adults in the cast is no doubt stellar. Tom Hollander, known for so often playing despicable characters on British television, is a kindly mole here, and his voice work is soft, his words rolling out of his mouth as if a kind gift. His is the standout performance, but credit is due to young lead Jude Coward Nicoll, who anchors the whole piece with a warmth that reaffirms the film’s values. His is a vocal performance not handicapped by usual child performance woes, such as a whiny tone and questionable cadence, his is as mature and homely as the rest of the short film.
“When the big things feel out of control, focus on what you love. Always remember, you’re enough just as you are.” The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is enough just as it is, a short film with both classic and modern messaging neatly bowed by some beautiful animation and exceptional voice work; a real triumph of its author turned screenwriter turned director, and a cosy, encouraging and beautiful little piece of cinema.