Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009

photo credit from someone's Pinterest page!
photo credit from someone’s Pinterest page!
  1. Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is a biting children’s fable about noble animal life and evil human farmers. With Dahl’s characteristic themes of mean adults being outwitted, outshone, or out-interesting-ed by younger, smaller creatures (often children; this time, foxes!), the story is loads of fun while also showcasing a sweet family tale with Mr. and Mrs. Fox and their four Small Foxes. “Outwitting” is probably the most important part of the above list, as Mr. Fox thinks of helpful solutions for the problem of the mean farmers waiting to shoot him – and his whole family helps to execute them. This short work showcases Dahl’s concise, colorful style.
  2. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox opens the door wider, so that all manner of small animals may outwit and outshine the mean farmers. The themes also become more broad and encompass a world of different things…and differences. Foxes and beavers and opossums and weasels and other small mammals celebrate their differences, and their various strengths. The theme of family is expanded upon as well, as the Fox family is given their own names and personalities – Mrs. Fox is Felicity, an accomplished landscape painter, and their son (only one!) is Ash, a boy who dreams big but never seems to be quite what his father might expect him to be. They are joined by their cousin Kristofferson, who is a gifted athlete and all-around centered young kit. Anderson’s film is done with rich, textured stop-motion animation (accomplished by painstakingly moving actual puppets and re-shooting them for each frame of action) in a warm palette of greens, browns, and golds that lends a sense of physical texture and reality to this world of talking (often hilarious) animals.
  3. If ever a movie was an excellent argument for a successful adaptation to be most true to the spirit, not the letter, of the original work, Fantastic Mr. Fox may well be that movie. The original work is a slender book, not a full novel-length work as some of Roald Dahl’s other popular stories (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda) are. It is essentially a brief fable, on the folly of the farmers and the cleverness of the animals. There are also larger themes hinted at, chiefly the destruction of the animals’ woodland home by the heavy machinery of the farmers. In Anderson’s hands, however – and the hands of the many animators and photographers who brought the tale to life – Mr. Fox and his friends and family grow larger and more memorable. By adding characters and changing a few family dynamics, Anderson adds some of his own touches – many of his movies feature strange, strained family relationships, so the relationship between Mr. Fox and his son Ash fits right in. The larger scope of the film is inviting to broad audiences, of adults and children alike, and is very much updated to appeal to 21st-century kids (and adults) in the same way that Dahl’s original work appealed to mid-20th-century kids (and adults). A more literal adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox would most easily be accomplished with a brief half-hour of traditional drawn animation…and would not contain at all the same vibrancy and spirit that Anderson puts in his creation, full of the fun and winks to the audience that Dahl’s original is.
  4. “Fantastic Mr. Fox: This Roald Dahl Adaptation Gets It Somewhat Right” huffingtonpost.com, Mar. 18, 2010
    As its title suggests, this article is not the most ringing endorsement of the film, but it takes an approach I found in several sources: contrasting this film’s success with that of the Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, also made in 2009. This piece, like many, land firmly on the side of FMF being the stronger work.

    “The character of Fantastic Mr. Fox in Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel is uncomfortably aware of the weirdness of his own anthropomorphic self” reddit.com, Sept. 2014
    This Reddit thread didn’t really take off, which is a shame because it could have been an interesting discussion, but it’s fascinating to see the way fans take to the internet to discuss these ideas across so many varying platforms.

    “Museum of the Moving Image: Great Adaptations” movingimage.us, May 2011
    This is the flyer for a film series advertised by and shown at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, where FMF was one of the featured films.

    “Songs of Innocence and Experience: Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson and the Post-Boomer” cinema-scope.com, from issue 41, no date given
    This in-depth analysis from Cinema Scope again contrasts Jonze and Anderson, specifically by focusing on their 2009 adaptations of beloved children’s literature, Where the Wild Things Are and Fantastic Mr. Fox, respectively. The conclusion here is also that FMF is the superior film, but the argument is made (and well-supported) that WtWTA is the more radical of the two films.

  5. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson demonstrates a level of artistic freedom that is in direct contrast with what we saw in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. By taking the original text and adding so much to it, including his own thematic quirks and traits (and those of his co-writer, Noah Baumbach), Anderson makes his film almost in defiance of those who would decry the differences between his work and the beloved book of their childhood. This is no criticism of the Potter film, which was made in a very different manner for quite different reasons, but it allows for pleasing reflection of the real sense of discovery inherent in film adaptations. “Why do this?” is a question every writer and/or director who proposes a literary adaptation must answer. Is it to pay homage to a book? To give a new view of a known reality? To open up a story to a broader audience who might not otherwise be exposed to it? Anderson’s answer to that question lives inside this adaptation itself. Anderson is known as an auteur and has won many awards for his original screenplays. Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first film that he ever directed from someone else’s story, and he has stated that the book was tremendously important to him when he was young. Anderson’s adaptation, by its expansiveness and the personalization within it, demonstrates the way this director holds up adaptation as a way to add to the world of a beloved story and to share it with a broader audience.

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