Charlie Mackesy talks adapting The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse: The Animated Story

The author of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse: The Animated Story on letting his beloved characters evolve.

Few books in the past few years have made a bigger splash than Charlie Mackesy’s wonderful The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Part graphic novel, part self-help book, part poetry, part fable – and yet, more than the sum of those myriad parts – Mackesy’s illustrated book of warm wisdom has been and remains a balm for troubled times.

When did the idea come up to animate your four beloved characters, and what was your first reaction?

I always thought even before the book that it would be interesting to see them move, and I did try to animate them myself, really badly, on my phone, so it’s always been in my head that they could move. I was involved in how they moved right from the start. So my first reaction was general excitement but there was no one moment; it’s been an ongoing reaction.

Was it difficult to “let go” of the original character versions and adapt them to a different style?

Yes, to a degree, I found it hard sometimes for the boy’s face to be so clearly visible given the fact that I liked the idea of having them half-obscured so people could project themselves or their children or someone else into it. But, that said, you’re not going to get the emotional connection without the face. So it was hard, and it took us months, but we got there in the end.

Were you nervous at all about losing any of the book’s original spirit, turning it into a new format?

Yes, I was worried about losing the kind of fourth wall honestly. When I was making it, I often felt, “Who am I to be doing this?” And I was worried that the film would lose that connection with the viewer. But I think that the film is a completely different thing, and it’s not a replica – it’s an adaptation book, it is not the book. So, my initial concerns were then consumed by just making the film.

Was there anything in particular motivating or inspiring you during the process of this adaptation?

I think I was just inspired by the whole team, and learning the craft, and I was so clueless that I enjoyed learning. I liked discovering how animation is made, and that’s what kept me going, I think.

More about The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse...

The Animated Story is slightly more narrative-driven than the original book – what inspired the story?

I think the original book needed less linear narrative, because it was just the four characters meandering through the countryside. I think the film needed more of a motive or reason for what they were doing and why, so the narrative was largely the boy saying he was lost and the mole responding, saying “That’s no good”, and immediately we had the purpose, which is to find the boy a home. That’s how all the conversation could take place.

The horse undergoes a change at the climax of this book – what was the message you wanted to send there?

Yeah, the horse suddenly becomes vulnerable, because he’s triggered by the fox’s vulnerability and honesty. So the fox suddenly says that sometimes, you know, “Your mind plays tricks on you”. He’s basically helping the boy to have hope. That then catalyses the horse to become vulnerable, and what’s interesting about his vulnerability is that then gets the boy to connect with the horse and say, well, “We love you”, and what that does is it then liberates the horse to fly. So that’s a big moment, which is vulnerability, shared weakness, connection, and then energy and power.

Did you “find out” anything new about your characters from this process, and what if so?

I did, I discovered the boy was purer than I thought, and that was largely led by listening to the voice of actor Jude Coward Nicoll who voices 'the boy', particularly with his intonations of “Well, we love you whether you can fly or not”. My emphasis was on the “we”, comparing his sentiment with the other horses who were jealous. But his emphasis was on “love”, and I learnt a great deal about myself and 'the boy' via the actor.

You’ve seen so much lovely reaction to your work over the years. What are you most excited for audiences to see in the new adaptation?

How they move, the colour, to hear the music. It’s multi-sensory, and therefore I’m excited for them to be more immersed in it.

Do you see further adventures for these characters after this?

Yes, I do.

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