Kate Winslet: Naturist

Kate Winslet, it seems, is more than just a disembodied pair of breasts that sporadically unveil themselves at inopportune moments in movies. Apparently there is a voice associated with those mammaries (and therefore, one assumes, a mouth, tongue, trachea and who knows how many other body parts too), and it is a voice that has become familiar to the public at large. It was only natural then that the lady in question would use said voice within films, as is the case here with two semi-documentary dramas that focus heavily on nature: The Fox And The Child and Pride. After all, it’s no secret that voice acting is a great deal easier than full-body acting, as there’s no hours of make-up, preparation of scenes and lighting or extravagant costumes to put on (or take off, as the case may be). Unfortunately, the appeal of an easy job can cause a lull in judgement in choosing said work, as is the case with both of these films.
First up is The Fox And The Child, in which Winslet adopts narrating duties for this tale of – you guessed it – a fox and a child, as the latter (Bertille Noël-Bruneau) befriends the former (a fox?) over the period of a year. I’m not a fan of attempting to disguise a documentary as drama, which is a shame as that’s exactly what both this and Pride try to do, as I either want to watch a documentary (which I’ll admit is rarer than it should be) or I’ll want to watch a drama. It’s never some hybrid of the two, where a thin plot is draped over the real-life footage in an unconvincing manner. You cannot add a three-act structure to real life without it feeling false.

Director Luc Jacquet used a similar tactic for March Of The Penguins two years before Fox, and that effort was far more successful for two reasons. One, penguins are frickin’ adorable, whereas foxes are halfway between giant scavenging rodents and vicious pack dogs, regardless of how fluffy and vibrantly orange the ones in this film are. I’ve never met someone with even mild disdain for penguins, hence why they are so often used in animated films like the Happy Feet and Madagascar franchises. Foxes, however, rarely crop up unless wildly stylised – see The Fantastic Mr. Fox – or bizarrely vocal – see Antichrist. The second trick up March‘s flippers was the choice of narrator. I have no issues with Kate Winslet, but she doesn’t really bring anything to this production, whereas with March you get the soothing, calming, golden-syrup-pouring-down-your-ear-canals intonations of Morgan Freeman, against whom no-one can compete in the narrating stakes.

All that The Fox and The Child really has going for it is the visuals, which is only to be expected from a nature documentary. Throughout the film we’re shown a menagerie of various woodland animals, including badgers, woodpeckers, stoats, voles, mice, hedgehogs, caterpillars, bears, otters, deer, frogs, pine martens, lizards, wolves and spiders, and even when there are no animals on screen the foliage on display looks like those idyllic brooks and waterfalls that have become inexplicably popular amongst recent shampoo commercials. Everything is lit beautifully – I assume the film’s final cut is a result of editing down from many, many hours of footage to compile the prettiest segments – but for my liking there was too much focus there, and not enough on creating a worthwhile story. The lack of dialogue was initially annoying, but was a blessing eventually due to the horrendous dubbing, as the film was originally recorded in French.

Pride fares a little better, as there is more of a story here, and a cast that almost makes the film worth watching. Here there is no narration, instead we are to believe that the family of lions upon which this semi-doc focuses have the ability to talk to one another via CGI mouth-manipulation that isn’t bad, but is a tad distracting after a while. Here, Kate Winslet and Rupert Graves voice siblings Suki and Linus, the two youngest members of their pride. Their mother is Macheeba (Helen Mirren), and they gain an adopted brother in Martin Freeman’s Fleck after his mother is killed in an attack from the ‘Wanderers’, a group of lions with no real home, led by Dark (Sean Bean) and Harry (John Hurt). The leaders of Suki and Linus’ pride are the two lazy male lions James (Robbie Coltrane) and Eddie (Jim Broadbent), and late in the film there’s a brief vocal appearance of Kwame Kwei-Armeh, who played Fin on Casualty, and won the first season of Celebrity Fame Academy in 2003.

The basic story is essentially a coming of age tale of any typical young girl, but transposed into the life of a young lioness to add an air of originality and adorability. Suki starts off as a precocious, inquisitive child, grows through a rebellious stage, considers vegetarianism, has an ill-advised crush, and eventually learns her place in the great circle of life and assumes the responsibility she needs to help the rest of her pride. Yes, I’m afraid there are an awful lot of similarities between this and the far superior The Lion King, right down to a finale that involves a lion dangling from a great height, and a landscape that miraculously dries up when a lion abandons their pride, only for the rivers to flow again once the family unit has been reunited. I’m a massive fan of The Lion King, so this comparison really didn’t help the case for Pride.

Pride‘s cast is well used, although I felt Winslet’s Suki probably got more attention than she really deserved. Broadbent and Coltrane provided the film’s better moments from their essentially useless but still dominating by tradition pride elders. Their bickering and discussions of the most mundane topics (“turned out nice again”) were the highlights for me, as they could have been quite easily lifted from any familial gathering. Sean Bean was also good as the slightly villainous Dark, but John Hurt was cruelly underused as the more despicable character. He wasn’t around enough to leave much of an impression, which is a shame as his character definitely had the potential for more.

In attempting to combine nature documentaries with dramatic plotlines, the film makers of both these films essentially failed to make anything engaging. Had the narratives been dropped in favour of a David Attenborough voice over, or the plot lines been more developed and used with animated visuals, these could have just about worked as one or the other, but not both.

The Fox And The Child: Choose life 4/10
Pride: Choose life 5/10

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