2009 ● ADVENTURE/COMEDY ● PG ● 87 MIN.
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Based on the novel by: Roald Dahl
Written by: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson
Two kinds of people emerge when a piece of literature transforms to film; those who have faith in the adaptation, and those who don’t. The potential of the film is heavily dependent on the capability of the director. Luckily, Fantastic Mr. Fox—Wes Anderson’s debut in stop-motion animation—proved to be a crowning achievement.
Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same name has the protagonist, Mr. Fox, experiencing the equivalent of a mid-life crisis—realizing he’s not a “kit” anymore. Mr. Fox’s career has consisted of robbing nearby farms of their chickens. When he settles down to have a family, he finds the change difficult. He becomes a newspaper columnist by day, and devises a plan to steal chickens, apple cider, and turkeys from Boggis, Bunce and Bean (the agricultural tycoons of the region) by night, but his obsession gets out of control when he starts to deceive his family. His instinctual urges prevent him from being something he’s not; a wild animal. Honoring that instinct, he cunningly steals food until his mistakes turn into dire consequences for the entire ecosystem.
George Clooney and Meryl Streep provide the voices for Mr. Fox and Mrs. Fox, respectively. Obviously, both are actors with incredible on-camera skills, so it’s exciting to see them try something new. Their voices are beautifully matched and almost harmonize with the dialogue. Regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson all join this cast to make it a quintessential Anderson movie.
It’s mandatory for a Wes Anderson production to have film references hidden within the text and subtext of the scene. Anderson enjoys the humor of using a classic quote from another movie to suit his own plot, which creates an experience of dramatic irony for the observant cinephile. For instance, this film uses a reference from the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause: “You say one thing, she says another, and everyone switches back again.” The iconic role James Dean portrayed, in his white T-shirt, blue jeans, and red motorcycle jacket, is mimicked by an animated character, who wears a red blanket draped over his shoulders while speaking the same line. This kind of attention to detail in film-making is probably one of my favorite aspects, so the fact that Anderson was able to join sophisticated comedy and stop-motion is an unprecedented artistic feat by his creative team that I appreciated.
Ray Harryhausen’s animation was a major inspiration for this film. One of the pioneers of stop-motion, his 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts had the notorious skeleton sword fight. Merging real actors with clay skeletons in battle is still an incredible animation accomplishment today.
Anderson’s hard work in converting Dahl’s masterpiece from page to screen was a success. This enjoyable film holds lessons significant for the entire family. Fantastic Mr. Fox celebrates the values of what it means to be a unique individual with different strengths. It encourages audiences to recognize “We're all different. But there's something kind of fantastic about that, isn't there?”