Girl-and-animal yarn, infused with an almost fairytale-like quality, boasts some striking critter footage and lush landscapes but falls into a more conventional, over-narrated format, with none of the life-and-death splendor of "Penguins."

Luc Jacquet, who hit international paydirt with docu “March of the Penguins,” stays on more verdant, four-footed territory with “The Fox & the Child,” to mixed results. Girl-and-animal yarn, infused with an almost fairytale-like quality, boasts some striking critter footage and lush landscapes but falls into a more conventional, over-narrated format, with none of the life-and-death splendor of “Penguins.” Strictly kidfare (unlike the previous outing), “Fox” has already notched a socko $17 million since its mid-December release in Gaul, but will need careful positioning by Picturehouse for its late-February Stateside opening.

A freckled young redhead (Bertille Noel-Bruneau) comes across a cute young fox on her way home from school in a remote hilly location. (Setting is never specified, though the pic was shot in France, Italy and Romania.) Girl lives in an isolated cottage in a valley, the only child of unseen parents, and spends a vast amount of time in her bedroom, which is like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen tale.

It’s already fall in the valley, whose flora is adorned with rich, New England-like colors. The girl later tries to find the fox, in order to befriend it, trudging through deep snow and ending up bedridden with a leg cast when she has an accident.

Narrative then switches to the fox for a while, as she narrowly escapes death and holes up in a burrow. As the winter thaw starts, she emerges (looking considerably older) to find a mate. When spring arrives, the girl eventually tracks her down to her burrow, where she’s already a mom.

Hereon, the pic starts to sketch the relationship between the two, forged when the girl — in a creepy sequence for young kids — gets lost overnight in a forest and wakes to find the critter asleep next to her. During the summer, the pair become fast friends, but (in the pic’s one comment on human-animal relationships) things go awry when the girl tries to domesticate the wild critter.

Film is largely just the sum of its images and, aside from a surprise ending, is more a pleasant view with charming moments than a consistently gripping narrative. Animal wrangling, especially involving scenes with other predators, is first class, and lensing likewise; but in terms of screen drama, the pic could easily take a trim of 10 minutes or so.

Narration tends to dot every “i” and cross every “t” but is delivered in an easy, conversational style by French actress Isabelle Carre, who appears briefly at the end playing the girl as an adult. Noel-Bruneau has a gangly, Pippi-Longstocking-like appeal as the girl, though is light on real character.

The Fox & the Child

France

Production

A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (in France)/Picturehouse Films (in U.S.) release of a Bonne Pioche Prods., France 3 Cinema production, in association with Wild Bunch, with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Yves Darondeau, Christophe Lioud, Emmanuel Priou. Directed by Luc Jacquet. Screenplay, Jacquet, Eric Rognard; story, Jacquet.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Gerard Simon; editor, Sabine Emiliani; music, Evgueni Galperine, Alice Lewis, David Reyes; costume designer, Pascale Arrou; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Jean-Baptiste Benoit, Germain Boulay; animal photography, Jerome Bonvier; visual effects coordinator, Beatrice Bauwens; visual effects supervisors, Cedric Fayolle, Hugues Namur; assistant director, Vincent Steiger. Reviewed at Gaumont Champs-Elysees Ambassade 12, Jan. 15, 2008. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Bertille Noel-Bruneau, Isabelle Carre.

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