Fantastic Mr. Fox
When I heard that the ever-astounding Wes Anderson was to be filming an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was absolutely thrilled; the charming tale of an old fox getting the last of three vicious farmers, and the outcome, is an absolute classic – filled with wit and charm only Dahl could pen. Wes did not let me down. In fact, I might go out on a limb and suggest that he might have improved the tale. Before I get ahead of myself I will tell you folks why. Anderson takes the tale of Fantastic Mr. Fox and totally fleshes out the characters, no doubt to allow these critters to be better related to the common person.
You have Mr. Fox (George Clooney), an ex-chicken thief still adapting to twelve fox-years (two human years) of family life – inevitably growing bored and wanting better for himself and family. Then there’s Mrs. Felicity Fox (Meryl Streep), the saucy ex-wild child who adores her family life and paints scenery on tiny canvases for a hobby – however, that doesn’t mean she’s lost her wild streak. The Foxes only have one cub, Ash (Jason Schwartzman) – as opposed to a litter in the book – and a subplot is added between him and visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), creating drama between both the cubs and between Ash and Mr. Fox, as Ash strives to be an athlete (like dad and Kristofferson) but can’t help being a little…different. Anderson also thickens the plot by giving the audience a short day-in-the-life experience of Ash and Kristofferson at school, an original opportunity left out of the book.
The infamous farmers and nemeses to Mr. Fox, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, are depicted as malevolently as they are described in Dahl’s tale. These men are as gruesome and violent as they are cartoonish and delightful to watch – almost like a dark, Brit cross between the Three Stooges (think the banter without the slapstick) and Elmer Fudd – but far more cynical, if that makes any sense at all.
The results of such changes are a remarkably charming, pleasant film; nominated for an Oscar, it’s just a shame that it’s taken me so long to see it. One of the greatest aspects of this film is that though these animals dress and act like people, one never forgets they’re wild animals – mostly due to subtle (or in some cases, blatant) actions, such as when they eat, or argue or do other small animalistic things. And then to contrast the cuteness of our protagonists, the antagonizing humans are portrayed as hideously as possible, without being too unrealistic – not even Bean’s son or wife is safe from the ugly! Gawd it’s adorable – not just the characters, but the entire film; even scenes with the psychotic Rat (as voiced by Willem Dafoe…fitting) are just so cute! I just gush “aw”s every time Mr. Fox and Kylie (a flighty opossum) mount a tiny fox-sized motor bike and speed off. And the dancing! Oy! Excuse me while I go squee.
As cute as this is, some may argue that the content is not suitable for small children. Then again, how small are we talking? The humor in this film, though comes off as mature, can be enjoyed by the smaller set…if they’re educated – that and can catch the fast-paced dialogue. (Remember, this is like any other Wes Anderson film, with the sets, dialogue, even costumes.) The violence is pretty mild – the worse things that happen includes when Foxy gets his tail shot off (happens in the book), which is then used as Bean’s necktie, then retrieved and fully detachable – no worse than when Daffy Duck gets his beak shot off. Let’s see, that and when the farmers and their men are comically set aflame by lit pinecones – but no actual burning takes place. Sure, they talk about alcoholic cider (reminder, the book was blatantly European), but no one’s ever drunk – it can be argued that Rat’s insanity was helped by the drink, but it’s never stated. And they don’t even swear, they say “cuss”! Can this movie get any cuter?
Okay, enough with my cutesy talk before I throw up. Putting that aside, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is well, for lack of a better word (don’t say it, don’t say it), fantastic! (D’oh!) This is an absolute marvel and not to mention a marvel as far as stop-motion animation goes. The story is charming, and the result is absolutely entertaining, deserving its place amongst Wes’s other feats. Bravo.
Final Grade: A