In the very first moment that the Horse appeared in the snowy woods, Anne pointed at the screen as if momentarily possessed by the spirit of Leonardo DiCaprio and shouted: “There it is, Disney! Finally! That is how you animate a horse! How hard can it be?”

Four travelers face the storm. [From the AppleTV+ trailer.]
Having heard good things from my film-loving friends Daniel, Ken, and Josh about a 34-minute animated film called The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, Anne and I pressed play last night.

You can watch it too if you have access to Apple TV+.

Based on the lavishly illustrated children’s book by Charles Mackesy, this Oscar-nominated animated short comes to us from co-directors Peter Baynton and the author Mackesy himself. And I’m not sure, but I’m inclined to say this is a strong candidate for Best First Film For Parents to Watch With Their Toddlers.

“Look for the helpers.” Fred Rogers would have loved this movie. [From the AppleTV+ trailer.]
Hardly enough happens in this story to deserve a synopsis: Basically, a boy is lost in the snow, and he encounters the three strangers listed in the title, talking creatures who quickly becomes friends and guidance counselors as they meander their way through an enchanted forest toward abrupt revelations and some life lessons about life’s hardships, the value of kindness, and the importance of even the smallest person.

The characters are sparingly drawn, but endearing in ways that will probably remind everyone of Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore. They’re even slighter than that, really — so simple that they’re in danger of dissolving into something like a mood or a sigh or a gust of wind. Think of The Little Prince or The Giving Tree, and you’re in the neighborhood. The thing that may spoil it right away for some viewers is that each character seems to come equipped with a kit full of platitudes that they cannot wait to offer. I’m not proud of it, but I cringed at more than a couple of lines as the Mole (voiced by Tom Hollander), the Fox (Idris Elba), and the Horse (Gabriel Byrne) kept on delivering tidy bits of wisdom at the slightest provocation, their distinctiveness seeming to blur into a common Voice of Counsel.

Much of this film’s magic is in its breathtaking attention to natural beauty. [From the AppleTV+ trailer.]
But whenever the script starts to feel too sentimental, preachy, and sweet, another breathtaking image fills the screen, or Isobel Waller-Bridge’s score swells or soothes us gracefully. And as long as we remember what passes for entertainment for small children these days, we might find ourselves grateful for small wonders like this. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse reminds of of so many picture books I loved as a small child, and many of them had scripts as delicate as this one. It’s like Life of Pi for Five-Year-Olds.

And as the world seems increasingly cruel every day, the grace of this movie’s pace and style, and lessons half-whispered all along the way might be the kinds of things that sink into a small child’s psyche and give them an appreciation for a more meditative kind of art. They might even serve, as they did for me and for Anne last night, as a sort of Sabbath devotional, reminding our weary adult minds and hearts of things we would tell small children if we found them as troubled as we are.