The new animated movie on Apple TV+ ‘The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse’ reminds us that mental health can be a disability like any other
When it comes to depicting disability on screen, Apple TV+ is very forthright. See has blindness small voice has autism better foot forward It has differences in the extremities. All of these shows are obvious tributes to the disability community, though not entirely relatable to the public. As I’ve written numerous times in this space, it’s these kinds of candid and genuine representations of disability that pay off for Apple. institutional belief that accessibility is a fundamental human right. Nowhere is this commitment more evident than in the company’s newest short film, called The biggest, released earlier this month coinciding with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Saturday, December 3.
The moving thing about the ad, yes, it is a commercial at its core, is so remarkable because it shows disabled people as capable and competent human beings. That message resonates much deeper than any singular piece of pornographic inspiration, which is why Apple’s focus on making TV+ a leader in the disability awareness movement is so fitting. It makes sense: Apple is taking its inclusive ethos around its many software platforms and applying it to its burgeoning media presence.
Charlie Mackesy’s children’s book turned into an animated film The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse it keeps the disability train on the TV+ track, but the effect is much more subtle than its siblings. The film, a neat 35-minute affair opening on Christmas Day, follows four friends on their journey to find, as Apple describes it, “the meaning of kindness, courage and hope.” The movie, like the book, is not expressly, even for the most part, about mental health; however, the nuances are strong. The truth is, mental health issues are just as disabling for those who know them most intimately, myself included.
the trailer of The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse is available on YouTube. Apple announced the movie. via press release in October. As with all TV+ content, the film supports an inclusive viewing experience with assistive technologies such as closed captions (CC) and audio descriptions (AD).
“I think the overall connection is what the book is about: how we actually process and how we share life and how we communicate,” Mackesy told me in a video conference interview earlier this month ahead of the film’s release. “I guess when we do that in a healthy way, we become mentally healthy. I feel like, just saying the book is [primarily] about mental health is wrong. It is about existence. It’s about being human. It is about connection, hope, fear and fragility.”
Mackesy, a self-taught painter, said work on the characters began “about five years ago”, when he began drawing sketches of a boy and a mole, followed by a fox and a horse. There was no rhyme or reason to either topic, but Mackesy would eventually post conversations he made up between them on social media. The dynamic that made them interesting was that Mackesy created it in such a way that the foursome would have conversations “we don’t normally talk or [that challenge] the way we normally think,” he said. The boy, for example, would ask the horse existential questions like “What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?” The horse responded with one word: “Help.” This exchange caught the attention of therapists and other institutions, who asked Mackesy for permission to use his drawings in sessions, to which he happily agreed. He wants to help people.
Mackesy pursued his artwork for about a year, which led him to do an exhibition in London. It was at that event that a publisher approached him about turning his art into a children’s book. He was initially reticent about the idea, thinking it wouldn’t sell in large numbers because there was no real substance to the story. It was all a spectacle of hand-wavy abstract concepts like kindness, belonging, and vulnerability. Not exactly the attributes of the real best sellers. To Mackesy’s delight, the book has exceeded his expectations beyond his wildest dreams. To date, it has been translated into more than 40 languages, and Mackesy told me that he recently received an advance copy of the book’s Hebrew edition.
Work on the film adaptation began in earnest during the height of the pandemic, when the filmmakers approached Mackesy about making a movie. Mackesy never dreamed of anything like writing a book, let alone making a movie based on one. He spent countless hours in Zoom meetings helping to bring the book to life. Mackesy receives executive producer and director credits on the film, which is produced by NoneMore Productions and JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions in association with the BBC. The film features the work of Tom Hollander, Idris Elba, Gabriel Byrne and newcomer Jude Coward Nicoll voicing The Boy.
However, insisting that the central thesis of the book does not revolve only around mental health, Mackesy recognizes its importance especially for a Western culture where mental ill-health has historically been seen as a weakness and a character flaw. Long ago, he told me, society has shifted in the direction of embracing mental health for the bona fide medical concern that it is. This is largely due to the isolation caused by the pandemic. If Mackesy’s story can help foster a more positive attitude on this, in addition to the other issues, then he’s all for it. For Mackesy, the book’s success isn’t measured in sales numbers or Nielsen ratings; For him, success is defined by the emails and letters he receives from readers telling him how his work has helped them.
“They are lovely people [buy] the book. It is wonderful. for me it is [more important knowing] if it helped you,” Mackesy said of his metrics for success. “Do you feel better about it? Do you feel more hopeful? Do you feel less alone? Do you feel that you have been seen or understood? Do you feel that now you have more hope? Do you feel like your mental struggles are less isolated? Do you feel like you have a way of navigating life? Do you feel that you can dare to ask for help and be brave? If the answer is yes [to these questions]the book will have been successful.”
The sentiment that Mackesy measures the successes of her book by the way it helped others ties in well with her long-term hopes and dreams. He hopes that people will read the book and/or watch the movie and come out on the other side a different person. A better person. A best feeling person, even incrementally.
“I really hope people feel a little relieved. A little calmer. A little more comfortable in their own skin. A little more understood. A little kinder. All these things that [ultimately] make us happier,” Mackesy said of its hopeful impact. “I hope you start at the beginning and that by the end it has made you think well of yourself. Hopefully it makes people feel connected or gives them courage to tell the truth and ask for help or whatever.”