The Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer
The Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner. [Translated by Joe Johnson.] Illustrated.
NYC, First Second, June 2017, trade paperback $15.99 (187 pages), Kindle $9.99.
Benjamin Renner is a French animator and cartoonist. He first became known in America as the co-director of the 2012 Belgian animated feature Ernest & Célestine, released in America in 2013. That was an adaptation of Belgian children’s books by Gabrielle Vincent, and featured Vincent’s art style. It was an international animation festival favorite, winning many awards, and was a 2014 Oscar Best Animated Feature nominee.
In 2015 Renner began to develop Le Grand Méchant Renard, a cartoon idea for a series of three French half-hour TV specials in his own art style. He wrote and drew his own cartoon-art book to promote them, published by Delcourt in January 2015. The TV cartoon specials grew into an 80-minute theatrical feature, Le Grand Méchant Renard et Autres Contes … (The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales …), released in France on June 21, 2017.
Now Renner’s French book has been published in English as a trade paperback by First Second Books, an American publisher of literary graphic novels.
The main characters in The Big Bad Fox are the title fox, a wimpy loser; the fearsome Mr. Wolf; what Amazon calls an idiot rabbit, a gardener pig, a lazy guard dog, and a typical hen who organizes the other hens into The Fox Exterminators’ Club; and the three little chicks that the fox becomes the Mommy of.
The main reason that the fox remains endearing is that, although he is a puny weakling who never gets respect (a sparrow calls him “fartface”), he never gives up. He always comes back for another try. He develops a personal relationship with the farm animals. The duck, rabbit, and goose call out friendly greetings. The dog grumbles that his visits always mean cleaning up after him. The gardener pig sets aside a basket of turnips or beets for him. His entering the henhouse leads to one of the favorite scenes of the book or the movie trailer. Fox (to hen who is ignoring him): “GRROWWWL!!!” Hen: “No way! Not again!! This is the third time this week!” Fox: “Well, yeah, but I’m hungry.” Hen: “I DON’T CARE!” (p. 5)
Later, when the fox is talking with the wolf: Fox: “I don’t get it! Why doesn’t it work for me? What’s my problem?” Wolf: “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you look about as strong as an oyster. Or because you have as much charisma as a dried slug in a jar of salt. Also, you’re about as ferocious as a geriatric tortoise.” (p. 13)
Continuing routines include the hens’ demands for the guard dog to take his job more seriously, and the lazy dog’s attempts to avoid any real work; the wolf’s attempts to get the fox to lure the hens from the farm into the forest, where he can get at them; and the book and movie’s main plot: the fox’s stealing three eggs to raise into hens they (mainly the wolf) can eat, and the fox’s becoming the three chicks’ “Mommy” who comes to care for them, and to protect them from his wolf partner.
The fox can’t convince the chicks that he isn’t their mother. At first they see him as a Mommy Hen. When he finally convinces them he’s the Big Bad Fox, they decide this means they must be Little Bad Foxes. When he can’t put off the hungry wolf any longer, the fox flees with the chicks to the farm. There he has to go disguised as a chicken, and the chicks endanger themselves by insisting that they are Little Bad Foxes and biting the other chicks instead of playing with them.
The Big Bad Fox tells only the middle of the three tales in the movie. According to the movie reviews in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, the three tales are “A Baby to Deliver”, in which a stork who breaks his wing tries to persuade the rabbit, the pig, and a duck who can’t swim to deliver a human baby for him; “The Big Bad Fox, this tale which is the longest; and “The Perfect Christmas”, in which the rabbit and duck believe they’ve killed Santa Claus and frantically try to fill in for him.
The movie and book both feature Renner’s art (or its animated imitation) as watercolors. The watercolor sketches in the book seem almost like storyboards for the movie.
The book contains much witty dialogue. A sparrow about to be eaten chooses the wolf over the fox. “If I have to get eaten, it might as well be by a creature with flair.” (p. 17) The guard dog to the hen, who has just stomped the fox into pulp: “In the future, I’d rather you didn’t throw your trash into my home. Thank you in advance.” (p. 26) Chick: “You love us, don’t you? Fox: “I don’t know. I haven’t tasted you yet.” (p. 103)
The book has an Amazon age rating of 7 to 11 years old; grades 3 to 7. Everyone else seems to consider it an All Ages book. The Big Bad Fox certainly is a graphic novel that furry fans should enjoy.
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