Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film based on the book by Roald Dahl and while I don’t recall too many specifics of the book, I do recall it being clever, amusing and one of my favourite books for a time. I’m uncertain just how faithful an adaptation this film is, but it does still conjure the same feelings of awesome – well, with one exception.
Fantastic Mr Fox tells the story of a family of foxes who wind up being hunted three viciously persistent farmers and as a child I remember Mr Fox being oh so charming and clever to outwit those mean farmers. Actually, it turns out that Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney; animated by many) is total ass who pisses off mean but undeserving farmers and ruins everyone’s lives because of it. It’s a lot like Fiddler On The Roof if Mr Fox was both Tevye and the Russians in one. Yet that’s not a negative by any means; having a protagonist whose failings causes problems and destruction to others that can’t be resolved in 90 minutes is refreshing to see in cinema.
This film is director Wes Anderson’s (The Life Aquatic, The Royal Tenenbaums) first animated feature film contains all of the charm and peculiar writing, staging and editing choices that mark his style – not to mention there’s his recurring co-writer Noah Baumbach and recurring cast that includes Bill Murray, Willem DaFoe and Owen Wilson. If, like me, you were put off by the trailer – don’t be. The trailers seemed full of awkward animation and uncomfortable celebrity voice acting, when actually the one the biggest successes of this film is the consistency and richness of the characters and the conversational, intimate subtlety in the animation performances. Granted, the wide shots of characters look completely naff and lack smooth arcs, but the close ups are often wonderful.
Having the characters that feel so very real and believable is important as Fantastic Mr Fox presents a strange world of anthropomorphic animals living in a human world. The animals are bipeds, talk, dress, live in furnished homes, work and have an economy – yet they still exhibit animal behaviours and hunt and kill. It doesn’t hold up to great scrutiny (why is Mr Fox anthropomorphic while the chickens and dogs are just normal animals?) but it works well to tell a story that is very human but with dilemmas unique to these human/animal being – and that’s both good anthropomorphism and good storytelling.
While not perfect, you have to love the storytelling choices in this film. The telling of the plot is kept very succinct which allows for more time to see the impact of the plot on the characters. This film is primarily about the adverse effect other people’s actions have on those around them. Alongside the wrath of the farmers Mr Fox brings there’s also the uneasy spite Mr Fox’s son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), harbours towards his cousin, Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson), who has come to stay. Ash is an odd and introverted cub and to dismiss him as emo is incorrect. This young fox dresses in pyjamas and towel cape, mentions aloud his aspirations to be an athlete despite his lack of physical skill and turns an ordinary conversation into a snarky conflict. When his lab partner in science class begins talking to Kristofferson, Ash bitterly calls her disloyal.
This is very much a Wes Anderson film, populated by bizarre characters who are fascinating and believably honest despite their eccentricities. As mentioned, Mr Fox is an ass, yet his selfish motivations are clear and he still retains a persistent charm. In fact, if you were to replace the animals in this film with humans, you wouldn’t have kids in the theatre. Although Wes Anderson films may not be to everyone’s taste, I definitely recommend (especially to adults) you watch Fantastic Mr Fox.