Bunny & the Bull Review
Bunny & the Bull is the brainchild of writer-director Paul King, here making his feature debut having been hitherto best known for helming a number of episodes of The Mighty Boosh. During the commentary King is at pains to point out that this isn’t a Boosh feature, yet in all honesty Bunny & the Bull does have problems escaping its shadow. Indeed, the poster art during its cinematic run, not to mention the sleeve for this DVD release, mentions The Mighty Boosh quite prominently, whilst the appearance, albeit in cameos, of Julian Barrett, Noel Fielding, Rich Fulcher and Richard Ayoade cannot help but alert the viewer to comparisons, intentional or not. Even one of the two leads, the titular Bunny, is played by Simon Farnaby, an actor who has previously made three Boosh appearances under various guises.
In King’s defence it is worth pointing out that there are more prominent influences on display. Bunny & the Bull occupies a similar comedic landscape as that of Douglas Adams’ efforts; as with The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy it tells the story of an ordinary young Brit caught up in some quite extreme circumstances (though it should be noted that Bunny & the Bull eschews science fiction altogether, instead opting for heightened realities) but never once losing those qualities that make him quintessentially ordinary and British. Meanwhile, the execution clearly has an affinity with the works of Michel Gondry; the plotting is akin to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, whilst those heightened realities share more than a flavour of The Science of Sleep’s fantasy sequences in their style and presentation.
To make sense of these comparisons, it should help to explain some of Bunny & the Bull’s plot points. Essentially the film is told in flashback, opening with our central character Stephen (Edward Hogg) in a state of post-traumatic stress to the point that his life follows a very strict routine and clearly demonstrates that he is suffering from agoraphobia. Of course, the reasons behind this are not entirely discernible from the off and so Bunny & the Bull, courtesy of its various flashbacks, relays the events which triggered off these circumstances. Effectively, this involves a European jaunt with his friend Bunny that grows increasingly strange as the flashbacks proceed. More importantly, in terms of the Gondry references, these glimpses into the past are also told in a very distinctive manner. Utilising Stephen’s immediate surroundings, i.e. his tiny flat, the events are seen to unfold courtesy of the various props of our lead’s existence. A box holding a carton of takeaway soup, for example, becomes the restaurant in which Stephen and Bunny first hit upon the idea of their European trip. Similarly, even the smallest of household items somehow figure to make up the landscape of Stephen’s memories: every street, road, tree, even animal is constructed from a newspaper, kitchen utensil or the like. The idea, ultimately, is that it is these very items which are prompting the flashbacks and finally allowing Stephen to face up the past.
As a result Bunny & the Bull has a highly distinctive visual look and one that King is very proud of (he spends a great deal of the commentary noting the minutiae of its creation as well as its progression and how this keys in with Stephen’s recollections). Arguably, it is also one that recalls The Mighty Boosh in its bric-a-brac formation and homemade qualities, specifically those episodes from the second and third series which pushed towards more out-there scenarios, though of course it looks a little more distinctive on a feature budget and in Bunny & the Bull’s ’scope frame. Yet if King succeeds on a visual front, then unfortunately he is found lacking elsewhere. For all the qualities of its presentation, this remains a film primarily angled on its central friendship, that between Bunny and Stephen.
Once again The Mighty Boosh raises its head when considering this relationship. Though each of the Boosh regulars has only a cameo role they nonetheless make an immediate impression as well as the most out of their tiniest of parts. Admittedly each is also playing a caricature to some extent, unlike the two central characters, yet neither Hogg nor Farnaby are able to sum up too much of a lasting impact. It is not so much that they are miscast as it is a problem with potentially underwritten roles and a lack of chemistry. (This latter element coming as something of a surprise once you see just how much the two actors get on in their joint interview amongst the disc’s various extras.) There is the air of a sitcom pilot to Bunny & the Bull despite its fully formed narrative and very clear ending, and as a result you sense that had Hogg and Farnaby more time - i.e. a number of television episodes - then perhaps this would begin to develop. As it stands the two feel as though they are still getting to know their roles, unlike Barrett, Fielding, et al, who just jump right in.
Moreover, there is also the sense that Bunny & the Bull would perhaps have worked better as a sitcom and split into more easily digestible chunks. The lack of chemistry between Hogg and Farnaby results in the narrative impetus being lost from time to time, instead resulting in the viewer awaiting the next Boosh cameo to spice things up. (In fact, the manner in which Ayoade, Barrett and Fielding appear, each in a separate third of the film, makes them almost feel like guest stars in a given episode.) Within a 30-minute stretch this would perhaps not be so prominent, yet over a feature-length running time it does become rather wearying. Furthermore, Bunny & the Bull would fit in very nicely on BBC3, sharing as it does with a number of that channel’s output qualities and flaws: inventive, flashes of brilliance, a distinctive flavour, but also underwritten and underplayed.
An excellent package all round, one that will clearly cater for the cult audience Bunny & the Bull is likely to find. The film itself comes in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with anamorphic enhancement and with the original DD5.1 sound. The former is clean and clear throughout, demonstrating no obvious flaws though it is likely that the Blu-ray, gaining a simultaneous release, will show off the amount of detail put into the visuals to better effect. The latter is similarly excellent, making full use of the various channels and remaining crisp and clear throughout. The disc is encoded for Region 2 and comes with optional English subtitling.
As for extras the main addition is the commentary with King, Hogg, Farnaby and producer Mary Burke. A friendly, chatty affair this makes for an engaging listen and is full of titbits on the genesis, production and look of the film, plus plenty of anecdotes on its making. It also demonstrates how much care King put into the whole thing, almost to the point that I felt a little guilty in liking it too much, though admittedly this effort does seem to have gone primarily into the conception and design as opposed to the actors and narrative.
Elsewhere we have various deleted scenes (generally extensions on those already present, albeit with added bits of improvisation - notably from Fielding), a host of B-roll footage and the expected blooper reel. King also shows up for a lengthy interview (that crosses over with the commentary in terms of some of the information it reveals), a featurette presumably made for Empire magazine’s website in which he uses a flipchart chock full of paraphernalia to explain Bunny & the Bull’s ideas, and a commentary over various stills, again explaining the thinking behind them and how they came about.
Also present is another interview, this time with Hogg and Farnaby, in which they joke about a great deal, but also discuss their careers and own take on the film. And finally there is Up, Up and Away, a “fan inspired” stop animation short lasting just over a minute that can also easily be found on YouTube having been uploaded by its maker, Renee May.