The Mighty Boosh has been perhaps the most innovative television show in recent years, and although much of the credit has rightly gone to its writers and stars Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, director Paul King deserves much praise for the show’s unique look. After all, this is the man who helped make ‘stationary village’ and ‘the crack fox’ a reality. Bunny and the Bull is King’s debut feature and he certainly keeps up the visually inventive surreal stylings of his television work - in fact more time and a cinema budget seem to have allowed him to take this even further.
Bunny and the Bull stars Edward Hogg (White Lightnin’, 2009) as obsessive compulsive recluse Stephen Turnbull whose super-organised world includes a daily routine timed to the second and an all-inclusive filing system for ‘random old shit’ that is taking over his flat (one box is labelled ‘drinking straws 94-96’). However, one mouse-sized glitch sends his world falling apart and sets in motion the long flashback that tells us how he got himself into this state: the cause being a road trip with his gregarious friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby, Harold Boon from the Boosh‘s ‘The Power of the Crimp’ episode) that takes in Europe’s strangest and most idiosyncratic museums (all real-life institutions) and other even stranger adventures until they eventually end up in Spain where Bunny intends to fight a bull and learn the secrets of the matador.
The film centres on an ‘odd couple’ premise, with Stephen and Bunny as Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison taken to the extreme. This contrast is exemplified by their luggage - Stephen’s meticulous preparation for every imagined eventuality against Bunny’s carrier bag full of lager. Along the way they pick up foul-mouthed love interest Eloisa (Verí³nica Echegui). The plot is slight but it is played with a Bedknobs and Broomsticks mixture of live action and animation and with lively cameos from the Boosh‘s Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding and a great one from The IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade as tour guide at a German shoe museum - it is a film where the details overwhelm the main story.
Hogg and Farnaby’s deadpan underplaying stands in stark contrast to what amounts to a creative diarrhoea around them. The film is described as ‘a road movie set entirely in a flat’ as the European tour is recreated from Stephen’s various hoardings. We are treated to a variety of animation styles from claymation to Paddington Bear-type black and white paper cut-outs and a clockwork fairground in the style of Michel Gondry or Alexander Calder’s zoo. The surreal clash of the fantastic and the mundane is reminiscent of the great Czech animator Jan Å vankmajer without ever quite approaching his dark sense of humour. Instead, the whole film is coated with heavy doses of Amelie-style whimsy (which some stomachs might find a bit cloying), but the sheer inventiveness just about pulls it through. Best of all is the bull - when he finally makes his appearance he is a marvel of stop-motion animation and well worthy of his place in the title.
However, the film’s major flaw is perhaps King’s script, which is not up to the standard of the writing in The Mighty Boosh and certainly not as consistently funny. Many jokes seem too obvious while others just fall flat and the film is far more successful at being funny-peculiar than funny-ha-ha. But it is a visual delight and fascinating to watch, and is a strong debut for King, which augurs well for the Mighty Boosh movie that is rumoured to be in development.