Most of us have heard the classic riddle. A farmer needs to transport a fox, a rabbit, and a cabbage across a river, but only one at a time, and he can’t leave either the fox and the rabbit behind, or the rabbit and the cabbage. Did you ever think that it could be adapted into film? Well, it has been and it’s actually quite clever; looking at the individual lives of the three players, as well as the farmer, himself. We’ve interviewed the director to get a closer look at Take Rabbit. And before you tell me you prefer that other riddle (the one where there are two doors, one with an honest doorman, the other with a lying doorman, one that will lead to certain doom, the other that will lead to saving your brother from Jareth) well, it shows up, too…
What inspired you to tell this story?
I’ve always liked the riddle of the fox, rabbit and cabbage. I really wanted to use that as a basis for something a bit meatier – a bit of a relationship drama as it turned out. I liked the idea of these characters engaged in a very nonsensical, almost abstract pursuit and then bringing real world, grown up issues into the mix to undermine it. The riddle sets out a very clear template as to the sequence of events and who’s with who when. Once I’d decided to use it as a basis for the film it was then a case of trying to work out how things would develop with only the man and one other character together at any one time. It was a fun challenge and I enjoyed the apparent restrictions it presented.
What inspired your art style?
It was partly a necessity of the technique I used. I made the bulk of the film using a piece of software called Animate which can give you a very flat, two dimensional feel. I wanted to add a bit more volume and shading to this typical look and also play around with outlines and how these could be used inside a character as opposed to strictly around them. With the rabbit and fox I wanted to make them more elegant and spiky than my usual characters which have a tendency towards being a bit rounded and wacky. I guess I couldn’t avoid that with the cabbage. I was conscious not to choose a story that had a vast number of characters and settings just to keep things manageable, that way I could concentrate on a few elements and make them nicely detailed.
The fox has a perfect chance to eat the rabbit, which is honestly something that bothered me in the original riddle; why doesn’t he just eat her? Is it their shared past?
At what point is that? I suppose the fox won’t eat the rabbit when the man’s around? He’s like the teacher keeping order over his unruly pupils. And of course the fox is by his very nature sly.
Was the cabbage really talking, or is the old man just imagining things?
Good question! I purposely wanted to keep that ambiguous. You have to question the man’s sanity just for engaging in such a pointless exercise in the first place. Maybe the whole thing’s in his head? I liked the possibility that the man was gradually losing it throughout the film which is why the cabbage’s face only appears and then disappears again when he’s alone with the man. And also the cabbage has this weird omniscience with regards to the rabbit and fox’s relationship which only the man knows about. It could be a fantasy sequence and the man is just projecting his inner ruminations onto a big green vegetable. But I also like the idea that the cabbage is the fountain of all knowledge.
What was it like choosing an appropriate voice actor for a cabbage?
I’ve been working in character based animation for twenty five years so I’m kind of used to casting for bizarre roles! That said I really wanted to avoid a voice that was cartoony or wacky in order to contrast completely with the look of the character. Getting Stephen Graham to play the cabbage was an unbelievable scoop given what a massive fan of This Is England and Boardwalk Empire I am. We talked a lot about this juxtaposition between the look and the voice of the character before we recorded him and Stephen came up with just the perfect blend of down-to-earth charm and sagely wisdom.
You know, the fox makes a good point; who does buy a fox, rabbit, and cabbage at the same time? What kind of shopping list is that?
Maybe he’s making a very meat heavy stew? I think by putting such a cynical character as the fox into such an absurd situation as this riddle you get a fun opportunity to pick apart the lack of logic which of course was really never meant to bear scrutiny. I mean the boat is small but, again as the fox comments, the man could have squeezed all three things in there. It’s the man’s dogged adherence to the ‘rules’ that I found either makes him resigned to the futility or slightly unhinged. Or both.
Can you explain the ending song?
Not convincingly! The ending is pretty bleak and dark and I just felt the end music should perhaps gloss over that a bit. Also it sounded a tiny bit cool and Tarantino-like which I felt was wholly inappropriate for my film. And therefore funny.
I don’t want to give too much away about the ending, but aren’t the guards supposed to allow the poor guy one question? That whole ‘what would the other one say’ or something like that?
They are indeed. And if the man had any tiny shred of willingness to play ball left at this point I’m sure they would have allowed him as many questions as he liked. They seem like nice blokes.
Tell us about your future projects!
My day job is doing tv commercials and with bills to pay I should get back to doing that really. In terms of my own projects there’s another short film idea I’ve had in the pipeline for years that I’d love to revisit. Unlike most of my other shorts it’s uncharacteristically heartwarming and not at all cynical – quite a departure for me! This one would actually require a bit of a (small) budget so it’s a question of working out how to get it made…