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Animals have always played an important part in animation. Talking animals have played an even more crucial role. The Animals of Farthing Wood is a series that takes the concept of talking animals, a staple of children’s animated content, and mixes it up with adult themes and imagery. The tale, that in its first season retold the classic novel by English author Colin Dann, follows the journey of a group of woodland creatures as they make their way to the haven White Deer Park. This is to escape the construction that has begun on their own land.
The premise sounds sweet enough. Yet, this series is far from child friendly. Hedgehogs are crushed by cars; pheasants are shot, and baby mice are impaled on branches. The show is often compared with other similarly gruesome animated projects such as Watership Down, Animal Farm and The Plague Dogs. That said, it is not in its gore or violence that The Animals of Farthing Wood shines, but rather in its character realism.
We are quickly introduced to several characters from the fox leader to the wise old badger. It is this interspecies interaction that drives the show forward. From the beginning, we are shown a group of creatures, thrown together by necessity for a need to survive, and from that point on, we see species helping each other, each character having their own mannerisms, accents, thoughts, emotions, and skills that they bring to the table. Characters bond and form odd relationships as the effects of humans on wildlife becomes more apparent.
The animation is beautiful. Although dated, there is a distinct style and aesthetic that greatly compliments the series. The walk cycles of the characters feel so authentic and the foreground focal points of the shots are enhanced by the watercolour hand drawn backgrounds. Meanwhile, the orchestral score fits the overall tone perfectly. I challenge anyone to listen to the show’s opening theme music and not be humming it in their head later that day. The series’ joyous sounds fit the happy scenes while its use of intense suspenseful music fits the moments of tragedy, pain, and loss.
That brings me once more to the violence of this series. The brutal ways in which a character may die is probably what makes this series stand out. When I have asked people about this show, it has often not been the characters that they have remembered, it has been the violence. Now, to have given this series about woodland critters the U/PG rating that it had may not have been the best move. Yet, on the other hand, is the violence important? Yes, it is.
This is a tale of sorrow, one that shows us the harsh reality of life. By adding these scenes of violence, it gives viewers even more of a reason to root for the protagonists. There is also a feeling at points in the series where anyone can die. This heart in your mouth emotion is ultimately a part of what makes The Animals of Farthing Wood so compelling.
The Animals of Farthing Wood is an excellent series that explores vital topics like survival and empathy. Although the second and third seasons never resonated with me as much as that classic first, it is still a show that holds a dear spot in my heart, a spot that screams: “I miss those loveable rogues.”