Published in 1970, Roald Dahl’s short classic The Fantastic Mr. Fox was yet another brilliant tale by one of the world’s greatest children’s authors. In 2009, director Wes Anderson, well-known after indie hits such as Rushmore and The Royal Tenembaums, released a stop-motion animated adaptation of the book.
It is clear that Anderson has brought plenty to the table, partly for practical reasons; after all, Dahl’s book doesn’t really contain enough material to make a feature length movie. What this means is that, whilst still retaining the original characteristics of Dahl’s work – the sly, roguish charm of Mr. Fox himself, the almost disturbing darkness of antagonists Boggis, Bunce and Bean – Anderson brings much of his own personality into the mix. There is a far greater focus on family, as there is in much of Anderson’s work. The relationship between Mr. Fox, his son Ash and nephew Kristofferson brings the father-son dynamic to the fore, while Fox’s secret midnight excursions with partner-in-crime Badger hint at issues of mid-life crises and the trappings of an unfulfilling job and unsure place in the world.
It is Fox, embarking on his triple-header job attempting to fleece the nearby farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean of their most valued possessions, that gives the film its narrative momentum. However it is also here that the film falters, just a little. The big issues being worked out – individuality, community, responsibility – sometimes feel a little forced, a little plain. It’s in the idiosyncrasies and nueroses of the everyday, of simple interaction, that Anderson and writer Noah Baumbach (Squid and the Whale), as ever, excel. But this is a minor issue, and one that is overwritten by sheer sense of fun and enjoyment in the material. As Fox puts his master plan into motion and rallies his troops by rattling off their Latin names and a list of their character traits you can’t help by get caught up by his enthusiasm and swept along by the film.
George Clooney’s Voice
The film is anchored by Mr. Fox, voiced by George Clooney. The star brings his distinctive tones to a character who combines perfectly with his own image. Introduced on a hilltop to the sounds of The Ballad of Davy Crockett, Fox is a suave, charming rogue, but one dealing with the realities of family and real life. The film makes a strange but actually quite fitting double-bill with another George Clooney film from 2009, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air. Here Clooney’s Ryan Bingham also finds himself out of place, searching for meaning in a world that seems to have moved on with no place for his particular talents.
But it’s not just Clooney’s show. There is able support from a fantastic voice cast including Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Michael Gambon among others. And they are all, of course, hidden behind the distinctive stop-motion animation. Different to other uses of the technique such as those of Tim Burton, Anderson gives his film an old-fashioned style that adds to the sense of wry humour and also, in a way, to the underlying sense of hard-working enthusiasm that went into creating the film.
A Fantastic Mix
Whilst certainly not a faithful adaptation, Anderson retains the heart of the original text whilst bringing his own sense of quirky, melancholy humour and dry, wry jokes that make this a fantastic, funny and at times quite moving film.