I’m afraid the ending of this movie didn’t hit me as hard as it was clearly supposed to. First, of course, is that there’s the issue that it’s a Kid And Their Animal movie—usually, that’s going to be a boy, for reasons, but honestly it doesn’t matter either way—and they only have one ending. The real problem, though, is that the kid never names the badger. So in what is supposed to be the movie’s emotional climax, the boy is yelling, “Badger! Badger!” And if you’re as old as I am and have been online as long as I have been, you only have one thing in your mind when someone says that. Not my fault; I can’t help it.
Benjy MacDonald (Christian Juttner) is a young boy (Wikipedia says six, but no) growing up on a farm in the wilds of Alberta. His father, Will (Carl Betz), is a dour man who has a hard time sharing his feelings and could barely court Benjy’s mother, Esther (Salome Jens). His older brother, John (Stuart Lee), is doing well in school, but the family worries about Benjy, because he spends more time talking to animals and so forth than showing interest in people. He is even, unbeknownst to them, befriending a badger. Then, they hire a trapper, Burton (Robert Donner), because two of their horses have broken legs in badger holes. And Benjy ends up going out into a storm and getting lost.
Honestly, how far from home does Benjy end up that the search doesn’t find him? He’s washed downstream quite a way in the storm, fair, and maybe he walked the wrong way when he got out of it. But he walked the wrong way on a sprained ankle, and the searchers are on horseback. It’s true that Alberta’s prairies are really big, but a boy and a badger on foot shouldn’t have been missing as long as he was within walking distance of the farm without one of the searchers’ coming across him, and a tracker who couldn’t find him can’t be that great of a tracker.
It’s true that horses are inclined toward breaking their legs if they step in badger holes. Or gopher holes, as Benjy points out are equally likely. I can see how a farmer might not want his fields full of badgers and gophers. I’m also sure you can’t expect all the social niceties of a trapper. But this trapper, frankly, doesn’t seem safe. He lets his dog just . . . wander. It’s not even that a potentially vicious dog is off-leash in a farmyard full of, you know, farm animals. It’s that he lets it wander the MacDonalds’ fields and doesn’t know where it is for days. He’s irresponsible and spends the entire time after Benjy gets lost insulting him within his parents’ hearing and assuming he’s dead.
This is a perfectly acceptable Boy And His Animal story. That it’s a badger is certainly an interesting twist; the movie is clear that badgers are not the friendliest of animals. (Though I discovered, while doing a little quick research on their habits, that they will sometimes pair with coyotes to hunt.) They do, as it happens, have a wide range; a single badger can have a territory so large that they’ll average one per square mile in some regions—though that’s still close enough to the farm that someone should’ve found him sooner.