June 14, 2010

Book Vs. Movie: Fantastic Mr. Fox

If someone were to have asked me years back who might be cast to play or voice the character of Fantastic Mr. Fox in a film adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, George Clooney is not a name that would have ever found its way from my brain to my mouth. Granted, I would never have expected for a director, in this case Wes Anderson, to take such a bold creative license on the story and its characters.

Roald Dahl is a remarkable writer, responsible for spellbinding me as a child with stories like Fantastic Mr. Fox and my favorite of just about any children's tale, The Witches. Beyond children's literature, he also had a witty talent at crime and mystery stories too, and I think its this side of his tastes that might have been delighted to see Wes Anderson give a more mature yet irreverent vision of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not to say that there is a sinister side to the movie, but a clear wink-and-nod to the parents who watch this movie with their kids. Just subtle stuff like Mr. Fox's disarming smile that looks more apt on a hungry jackal, or the Rat (Willem Dafoe) and his demeaning comments to Mr. Fox about his wife's youthful reputation. A kid might not catch on, but it's seasoning for the grown-ups.

The book only weighed in around sixty pages or so, which is pretty light source material when you're looking to create a ninety minutes feature film. More has been done with less, however, and with mixed results in the past--Where the Wild Things Are struck a good chord, while How the Grinch Stole Christmas felt more like an abomination than any Jim Carrey film in memory. The story is clearly aimed at young children with its pace and tone. It's funny, with just enough action and suspense to make it a fun story of a fox overcoming adversity to provide for his family and friends.

While there is all that in the movie, there is an even greater focus on Mr. Fox's longing to regain his wildness. As if he were a fox in a mid-life crisis. The movie starts at a moment in time before Dahl's book, with Mr. and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) stealing chickens like a vulpine Bonnie & Clyde. But they're domesticated upon learning they're going to have a child.

And their kid (Jason Schwartzman) added an entirely new angle to the story I don't remember at all being explored in the children's book. He's disgruntled about his size and inability to live up to the immense athletic reputation of his father, and really starts to brood and lash out when his cousin comes to stay for a while and is shown up even more both at home and in the schoolyard. It turns the story into a real family film as each member of the Fox family is explored to its fullest extent, and the interplay between the characters feels both genuine and charming.

Winner: The Movie. While there is still a nostalgic charm to the children's tale, which I read again over Christmas this year while the movie was in theaters, I was simply won over by the film once I saw it. The stop-motion animation is stylized in such a way that it's like watching furry stick figures set to music during action scenes, and remarkably organic textures to the figures during the more intimate and down-tempo scenes. It's eye candy in every sense of the term, though I suspect some people disliked the movie because of the stop-motion animation. To those people I say, I pity you.


  1. Loved loved LOVED this film. I laughed all the way through it the first time, and I still snickered when I saw it the second. I think that Wes Anderson did a remarkable job with it - the voice talents, visuals and script were impeccable.

    And I've been going around saying 'cuss'...

  2. Yeah, I've used "cuss" a few times since seeing it. Though, I still am known for my sailor-talk.

  3. I've been wanting to see this one but still haven't managed to yet. Knowing that you and Celia enjoyed it gives me that much more desire to do so.

  4. I doubt you'll be disappointed, Ryan.

  5. Saw the movie twice so far (once in the theater, and again the other night on DVD).

    I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. I am a huge Wes Anderson fan to begin with, but this film may be one of his best (Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums not withstanding).

  6. I have not watched this movie as of yet but thanks for the review. I appreciate it. I like reading reviews. Except for those pieces in which actors I know and love are starred. That i do not have any doubts of being excellent. This link will lead you to where you will have something enjoyable to read too. Just like I did here. Thanks for sharing.