Directed by Elena Pomares
One could talk about sociology or philosophy when reviewing Elena Pomares' multi award winning short THE HENHOUSE. One could talk about nature vs. nurture, about destiny and self-alienation, about Rousseau and Marx, about primordial urges and the corruptions of civilization, about the wild beast in all of us and how it was tamed and can never be regained. We'll get there in time.
But let's talk about style first, because this is an animated short with a painstaking eye for details and an uncanny love for the form itself. The style of animation shown in THE HENHOUSE seems more than an ocean away from the clean-cut, primary-color-saturated world of Disney and company. This is a cosmos of smudgy lines and spotty background, the sometimes grotesque figures seem pencilled on stained cocktail napkins or a crumbled piece of brown paper. This “dirty” look also transcends into the plot, when breasts hop out of cleavages upon the owner's laughter, or when little babies get fed pre-chewed food. In style and content THE HENHOUSE is reminiscent of Dutch or Belgian traditions of animation, of movies by Sylvain Chomet or Michaël Dudok De Wit – in short: THE HENHOUSE looks distinctly European, which is only fitting, seeing as the main place of action is the European locale par excellence: the bistro.
Okay, now we can focus on the plot and it's meaning. Because there's a fox sneaking around this bistro. And what do wild animals do when their natural habitat is replaced with an inner city surrounding? They adapt. They eat the humans' leftovers, they hang around bistros and take jobs as baristas for a minimum wage while… wait, what? The fox has not quite been made master of the proverbial henhouse, as the title may suggest, but he has certainly been promoted to waiter and bartender. He's balancing trays on top of his head, starting hilariously bitter feuds with both the lap dog of an old woman and the toddler of an inattentive mother in his new-found workplace, while all the time trying to protect his fragile tail.
You would think the humans, who only talk in a wobbly kind of “mwah mwah mwah“ sound (what Douglas Coupland quite adequately used to call “Charlie Brown teacher noise“), would object to being served by a wild animal, and indeed, when they finally realize the razor-sharp teeth of their new waiter, the possibility of a fox hunt seems possible. But the conflict between man and animal is not the point that writer/director Elena Pomares is trying to make. It's a more subtle parable, as we find out in the last scene, where the fox watches one of his kind sneaking around the bistro, but instead of joining it just melancholically looks away into the distance. It's just too late to turn back into the wilderness. He's one of us now and there's no turning back. Has he been enriched, corrupted, tamed, civilized, estranged from his own nature, or liberated from his primordial urges? Maybe all of it.