This follow-up to French director Luc Jacquet’s enormously successful ‘March of the Penguins’ is even further outside the boundary that surrounds the nature film genre than its predecessor. To recap, ‘March of the Penguins’ was criticised for making its protagonists' lives appear too human. In this natural fairytale, the animal characters, principally the fox, are once again considerably ‘humanised’, even to the point of having different ‘expressions’ - created by using different foxes and clever grooming - depending on the situation it finds itself in.
Different viewers will have wildly different perspectives on this sort of thing. The director’s aim is to blur and bring together the world of the human and the animal but it arguably diminishes the film instead of adding to it.
In any case, the story begins with the girl (Noelle-Bruneau) exploring the woods. For a fleeting second, she sees a fox and is enchanted by it. She returns again and again to the spot where she saw the fox first but it is only over many months that she begins to learn about the animal and its world. Eventually, the fox comes to trust her. They will face danger together; the fox by leading the girl into the wilderness, the child by attempting to domesticate her friend. The fox must also escape the big predators - including humans - that occupy its habitat.
It is when the film moves away from the interactions of the child and the fox that it truly lifts off, producing some moments of breathtaking beauty. Landscapes are stunningly shot, and the minutiae of the environment - frogs, plants and insects - are also wonderfully captured.
However, it is with the story of the relationship and the pacing that the film falls down. The narrative does not flow and, ultimately, the story does not quite come off.
Also problematic is that the child is vital but her performance never really enchants or engages as it is meant to do. This film has been enormously successful in France and, perhaps, - as appears to be the case with several other aspects of the film - something is lost in what is an adaptation of the film for English audiences.
Kate Winslet's narration is perfectly fine, but in the French version the narrator eventually enters the film in person as the grown-up version of the child. That has not been possible in the adaptation.
Ultimately, Jacquet’s effort is brave, admirable, different and at times spectacular but only partially successful. ‘The Fox and the Child’, at least in its English form, does not quite bear the weight of his effort to unite narrative and nature into a satisfying whole.