In terms of style, director Paul King's Bunny and the Bull goes farther than most of the whimsical, quirky indie lot, achieving a level of originality that many "visually ambitious" films by Michel Gondry wannabes fall far short of. Sadly, although King's energetic fusion of 2D animation, CG, production design, costumes, in-camera tricks and stop-motion is frequently compelling to look at, the journey is hosted by a pair of dour characters who go through not only the same motions other films have gone through before, but the same motions throughout the movie.
The conceit is simple: Stephen (Edward Hogg) is a recluse, refusing to go outside in the aftermath of a traumatic road trip. In reflecting on the adventure, however, even the film's illustrations of Stephen's memories are confined to his apartment, finding life through the objects contained within. Travel to a mountaintop hotel is done by way a chintzy snow globe. An extremely low-rent restaurant pops up inside a greasy take-out box. Entire buildings are created out of stacked milk crates, and the open road consists of illustrations scrawled on a road map. Too many extravagant visuals in films lack an overarching theme, but King's approach is, at the very least, always conceptually inspired.
The adventure begins (began?) when Stephen's mildly obnoxious friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby) convinces Stephen to help him bet their entire combined fortunes on a horse race, which miraculously pays off in spades. Flush with cash, the two friends set out on a European road trip with the goal of adding some excitement and variety to their mediocre lives, but Stephen's laundry list of obscure museums quickly wears down Bunny's patience. Things take a turn for the worse when both men take notice of Eloisa (Veronica Echegui), a frustrated server at a restaurant who quits in a huff. She tells Stephen she's looking to return to Spain for a celebration, so Stephen and Bunny track down a car for all three of them.
The biggest problem with Bunny and the Bull is that the characters are all fairly one-note, and King is so busy with the look that he absent-mindedly pounds these notes into the ground. Not shockingly, the painfully shy Stephen finds his dreams of Eloisa almost immediately steamrolled by Bunny's horndog ways, falling into bed with her before Stephen can even muster the courage to open his mouth. On one hand, it's expected that characters in stories to start out in a poor to average place and ascend to something better, but this scenario -- Stephen is reluctant to do something, and Bunny dives right in -- is essentially the only thing that happens in the movie, without significant variation from the actors. Sure, those may be the characters, but it feels less like it springs from within each man than it does from the needs of the screenplay. Echegui is slightly better than her co-stars, perfecting her character's broken English schtick, but Eloise has even less to define her as a person than Stephen and Bunny. Her character is merely around, without noticeable goals or dreams of her own. She's actually so set apart from the other characters that she barely even qualifies as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl -- more like a Fleeting Pixie Dream Crush.
Beyond its main characters, the screenplay shuffles in a bunch of nonsense involving a stuffed bear, a weird mountain man (Julian Barratt) who drinks dog milk straight from the source, and Eloise's matador-wannabe brother Javier (Noel Fielding), who tries to teach Bunny the basics of bullfighting in a parking lot using a shopping cart. Although some of these scenes are amusing, they play like self-contained sketches, designed to pad out the running time to feature length. The film arrives at an ending that achieves a bit of bittersweet charm, but it's too little, too late. King has created both cast of interesting, unique characters and a visually stunning world, but he mistakenly believes placing the former inside the latter is the same as writing a story worthy of either of them.
Bunny and the Bull comes with the rarest kind of DVD cover art: that which accurately represents the style and tone of the film. Designed like an aged postcard or travel pamphlet and featuring an ever-so-slightly inharmonious blend of colors, the design effectively hints at the blend of live-action and animation that makes up the movie without quite spoiling any of the surprise. As with all IFC releases, sadly, there is nothing printed on the inside reverse of the cover, even though the disc comes in a clear case with no insert.
The Video and AUdio
IFC presents Bunny and the Bull in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that tries its best. King's palette is centered around a certain brownish-orange tint that the color capabilities of standard-definition are not particularly adept at rendering, resulting in a frequently fuzzy, smeary-looking image. The film is also rife with CG and greenscreen, which often causes the light/dark areas of the cinematography to "invert" (i.e., shadows end up looking "brighter" than lit areas thanks to a lack of deeper black levels). All in all, the image is okay, because some of the film's clashing colors are intentional, and some of the close-ups and all-digital shots actually look very good, but the film begs for a fine-tuning or the range of high definition.
Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio is fine, handling the various oddities the film throws at the mix with relative ease and little fanfare. Surrounds are used to small but accurate effect, dialogue is clear, and the music comes through very well. It's nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done without the sense that anything is missing. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Two extras are included, both with self-explanatory titles: Interviews (7:24) collects writer/director Paul King, actors Simon Farnaby, Edward Hogg, Veronica Echegui, Noel Fielding, and Julian Barratt for a bit of low-key chatting about the film's general themes and the making-of process, while Behind the Scenes (13:04) is an EPK-style featurette with more B-roll in addition to more interview clips. Neither is particularly insightful, but neither is actually bad, either, so I suppose it's better than nothing.
Trailers for Ricky, One Week, The Other Woman, and The Housemaid play before the main menu. The film's original theatrical trailer is also included.
Bunny and the Bull looks like a million bucks, and on many levels, its oddball tone is interesting and intriguing, but ultimately, the film feels a bunch of colorful odds and ends meant to surround a meaty, engaging story have taken over the set during the lunch breaks, or maybe like an interesting short film painfully extended to feature length. The PQ struggles on DVD and the extras are throwaway to boot, so even fans of the film might be better off renting it than buying the disc.
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