The Boy, The Mole, the Fox and the Horse won the Oscar in 2023 for the best Animated Short Film. It is based on Charlie Mackesy’s 2019 bestselling book, which has brought joy to more than seven million readers worldwide. More than 120 animators from around the world collaborated on the animation, which was drawn first in pencil and then inked over and hand painted. This beautiful 38-minute film speaks to young and old alike with its gorgeous images and spiritual insights. A companion book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse: The Animated Story with full-color reproductions from the film, is also available.
The Boy (voiced by Jude Coward Nicholl) is lost; he wants to find a home but he doesn’t know where to go. He meets the Mole (Tom Hollander) who remembers that an old mole told him to find a river and follow it home, so the two set out together. They meet a Fox (Idris Elba) who at first appears to be a threat, but when the Mole is kind to him, joins them on their journey. In a forest they meet the Horse (Gabriel Byrne) who proves to be reassuring and very helpful as they go through a storm and see a town in the distance.
What is magical about both the book and the film is how these four connect with each other on a deep level, express universal concerns we are all familiar with, and share spiritual wisdom. In our Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy, they practice questing, kindness, hospitality, love, yearning, and zeal.
“We live in a world where welcome and gentleness and civility are increasingly rare. Most of the conversation between strangers is terse and quick, and too many times it is cold and rude, it can even be that way, more often than we care to admit, among people who are not strangers. Such is the world we live in that we are almost stunned by hospitality and gentility whenever it breaks out around us. We are drawn to the people and to the places where we find such welcome in abundance.
--Robert Benson in Home by Another Way
Not much action happens in this short film, but the boy and his animal friends have some wonderful conversations. Here is a sampler of some of them. Notice how supportive they are of each other, even though they have just met.
The Mole: What do you want to be when you grow up?
The Boy: Kind.
The Mole: Nothing beats kindness. It sits quietly behind all things.
The Boy: Isn’t it odd, we can only see our outsides but nearly everything happens on the inside.
The Boy: Imagine how we would be if we were less afraid.
The Mole: Most of the old moles I know wish they’d listened less to their fears and more to their dreams.
The Mole: I am so small.
The Boy: Yes, but you make a huge difference.
Horse: Tears fall for a reason and they are your strength not weakness.’
The Boy: I think you believe in me more than I do.
Horse: You’ll catch up. Life is difficult but you are loved.
The Fox: To be honest, I often feel I’ve got nothing interesting to say.
The Horse: Being honest is always interesting.
The Boy: What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?
The Horse: Help. Asking for help isn’t giving up. It’s refusing to give up.
The Horse (to the Boy): When the big things feel out of control, focus on what you love right under your nose.
The Fox (to the Boy): I’ve discovered this – you are loved and important and you bring to this world things no one else can. So hold on.
The Boy to his new friends: Home isn’t always a place, is it?
Although it seems at first to be a simple story, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse covers some important life-affirming themes: the value of questing both through going on a journey and through asking questions; the gifts of friendship; and the adventure of being truly alive. Here are three quotes that also touch on those themes.
“Think back over your life. Have you ever embarked on a quest? Has there been anything in your experience -- any goal, any purpose -- that commanded an intense effort from you? The winds of your desire might have carried you on a journey to exotic places, in search of strange places. Perhaps you quested for new creations: new forms of art. Dance, music. Or perhaps you were carried in another direction, into the world of ideas.”
— Susan Witting Albert in Writing from Life
“Friendship isn’t all big gestures, ecstatic moments, it is also the littlest things, the humanity that happens between people when you find yourself way out of context and someone reaches out and pulls you in. . . . I am who I am because my friendships keep on growing -- because there are always new people slipping into my life, new voices, new stories, new faces I look for, new homes that open up to me.”
— Beth Kephart in Into the Tangle of Friendship
“For me, the heart of the spiritual quest is to know ‘the rapture of being alive, and . . . to allow that knowledge to transform us into celebrants, advocates, defenders of life wherever we find it. The experience of aliveness must never degenerate into a narcissistic celebration of self-for if it does, it dies. Aliveness is relational and communal, responsive to the reality and needs of others as well as to our own. For some of us, the primary path to that aliveness is called the active life. We need a spirituality which affirms and guides our efforts to act in ways that resonate with our innermost being and reality, ways that embody the vitalities God gave us at birth, ways that serve the great works of justice, peace, and love.”
— Parker J. Palmer in The Active Life
Other Movies for the Child in All of Us
Charlotte’s Web: A delightful and enchanting screen version of the children's classic by E.B. White about friendship, the awesome power of words, and the real life of the imagination.
The Little Prince: A creative and spiritual reworking of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s magical and enlightening 1943 novella.
Paddington 2: A sweet family film about a talking bear whose spiritual practice of kindness is what we need so desperately in our times.
The Velveteen Rabbit: A family drama, based on the popular children’s book, about how loving makes us real.
The Wind in the Willows: A delightfully clever Monty Pythonesque adaptation of Kenneth Graham’s children’s classic.