By Michelle Strozykowski (21/03/2022)
Bunny and the Bull; the weird and wonderful British comedy/tragedy that reunited Mighty Boosh alumni Paul King, Simon Farnaby, Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt and Richard Ayoade.
Bunny and the Bull is a very funny film, but it's undeniably tinged with moments of genuine sorrow. Or vice versa. Maybe it's actually a really sad film blessed with moments of gentle comedy. Either way, it’s witty and clever and a little bit arty. Not arty in a scary way though, more like an oddball early Terry Gilliam, or Jean-Pierre Jeunet sort of way.
When it first came out in 2009 the film was hardly a blockbuster. It wasn't seen far and wide at all, which was a crying shame. Directed by Cambridge graduate Paul King, who'd cut his teeth helming many an episode of The Mighty Boosh (2004-2007), the film demonstrated all the crossover appeal of a Delicatessen but with the added bite of native British humour.
Bunny and the Bull - What’s it About?
It’s about a man, Stephen, a very lonely, sad man, who is trapped in a self imposed exile. His life of regimented routine is threatening to overwhelm him as he files and labels absolutely everything, even including his bodily waste, with deranged obsession. The question as to why he's doing this is gradually answered with a closer look at many of the things he's hoarding. These objects hold memories for Stephen, good and bad, and the film follows him back into the past through them. It seems that everything is tied together by the history of a shambolic road trip he took with his best mate Bunny.
As this film is set almost entirely within the head of its main character, Bunny and the Bull is granted certain wonderful indulgences. Memories are brought to life using stop frame animation, and background scenery is often hand painted and beautiful. This sort of mise-en-scène conjures a dreamy, fairytale quality, occasionally reminiscent of the Czech animator Jan Svankmayer, although nowhere near as nightmarish. (As if anything could be!)
But whilst the fantasy element is oddly alluring, the film is balanced by a bittersweet, harsh reality. Bunny and Stephen are easily recognisable as real people, despite exaggerations for comic effect, and this gives the film soul. Granted, it’s a little offbeat and silly at times, but these elements are deftly interwoven with a surprisingly moving examination of the human condition. In telling the tale of how Stephen ended up in such a dire mental state, the film evokes humour, grief, love, anger, longing… the very stuff of life.
Was It a Mighty Boosh Spin-off or a Paddington Precursor?
Whilst it's unfair to label this film as a Mighty Boosh spin-off (it absolutely stands apart), it's easy to see why that's how it was marketed on release. Hot on the heels of what were the Boosh's heydays, both the poster and the trailer for Bunny and the Bull did little to discourage the connection. With Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt both featuring in cameos, and director King being best known at the time for his work on the Boosh TV series, it was an obvious way to promote the film.
These days King is better known for his groundbreaking work on Paddington, and Paddington 2, which did in fact turn out to be real British blockbusters. It's not hard to see the correlation between the gentle humour of Bunny and the Bull and the heartfelt charm of Paddington. They clearly both come from the same stable. Bunny and the Bull's humour has the same universal appeal and cinematic scope as Paddington's, just with a touch of Boosh surreality thrown in:
"How many shoes can you name?"
-Richard Ayoade as the deadpan curator of The Polish National Shoe Museum, one of the many strange places visited by Stephen and Bunny on their trip around Europe.
The Talent of Bunny and the Bull
The real stars of Bunny and the Bull are the less well known (at the time) leads Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby (Horrible Histories, Ghosts) and Verónica Echegui (Fortitude). Hogg, as Stephen the floppy-haired everyman lead, is convincingly restrained, whereas Farnaby as happy-go-lucky Bunny is simply outrageous. They complement each other well, and bounce well off the firecracker thrown into their midst, sexy Spanish waitress Eloisa (Verónica Echegui).
Attractive acting talent, inventive visuals, and a unique method of storytelling combine to make Bunny and the Bull a shoestring budget film with a whole heap of flair and charm. It's well worth seeking out to watch, or re-watch, now that its director is deservedly flying so high. What Bunny and the Bull demonstrates is that Paul King has always had a knack for making sweetly satisfying films about the goodness inside ordinary people, even before Paddington came along.
And long may it continue too. His next project is Wonka (starring Timothée Chalamet), about a young Willy Wonka. Judging from the few pictures released so far (it's currently in production) this looks like a match made in heaven!