Friday, December 4, 2009

Maybe there's a little wild animal in all of us?

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Released November 25th, 2009)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Screenplay by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Adapted from the novel by Roald Dahl

"I'm a wild animal" and indeed no matter how much Mr. Fox desires to fulfill Mrs. Fox's expectations and by extension that of a middle class existence, he cannot. It is the tug of war between Mr. Fox's true nature and the constant pressure of society which underscores the Fantastic Mr. Fox. At the beginning of the film Mr. and Mrs. Fox (voiced splendidly by George Clooney and Meryl Streep) face an ever familiar crossroads when one is hurled reluctantly from the last tenants of adolescence into adulthood. In the case of Mr. and Mrs. Fox they find their particular crossroads in the form of fox trap at the exit of a squab coop. Felicity Fox chooses this moment of life and death to announce she's got a pup in the oven.

Fast forward some fox years later and we arrive at the familial home (or foxhole) complete with cub, and a reformed Mr. Fox, now a columnist for the local paper. But its hard to take the Vulpes vulpes out of the Vulpes vulpes.
Driven by a need to fill the void left by leaving his passions behind, like much of pre-recession USA, Mr. Fox indulges in the so-called American Dream. He moves the family on up - literally to a bigger, 'better' home (can we afford this? Mrs. Fox asks). Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, this new and shiny abode is surrounded on all sides by temptations that are irresistible to Fox of his nature (the bountiful farms of the greedy Bogus, Bunce and Beans). Mr. Fox's need to scratch his itch, puts not only his family but the rest of his furry friends in peril.

This nostalgia influenced stop animation world of cerebral minded foxes, badgers and possums clothed in Parisian style suits is the product of indie auteur Wes Anderson. An adaptation of a novel by another lanky, tall and well suited gentlemen, the late, ingenious British Children's author Roald Dahl. The Anderson - Dahl pairing is a truly 'fantastic' match. Roald Dahl's widow must also have approved, allowing Anderson not only to adapt the book but also to write the screenplay at Dahl's home, the Gypsy house. Its not too much of a stretch to guess Mr. Fox at least in appearance is the combination of the two men. In fact much of the settings are modeled on the author's home and surroundings.

Familial bonds (though strange and strained at times in Anderson's films) are themes that both the filmmaker and author often gravitate towards. Anderson twists the tale slightly with the insertion of Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, yup Wes' bro) the zen like, naturally athletic cousin sent to stay with the Fox's and seemingly disrupt the life of Ash their quirky- malcontent son (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). Ash and Kristofferson play out sibling rivalry of sorts we've seen from Bottle Rocket to Darjeeling Limited. In fact its not hard to (more like impossible not to) imagine the Fox's human counterparts. Mr. Fox is Steve Zissou/Royal Tenenbaum the distracted somewhat absentee father, Etheline Tenenbaum and Felicity Fox could swap places if not for the fur... you get the idea.

When published in 1970 the Fanatistic Mr. Fox was criticized for being anti capitalist, which now is in vogue rather than condemned. Though Anderson changed some of the ending (the book ends with the raid on the goods of the three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean), it stays true to the Dahl's implied criticisms and contempt for social institutions. After many a quivering fox hair, fox tears and family tribulations, Mr. Fox leads his family et. al., to his biggest score and success. They gain entry into that of the Supermarket owned by the three previously mentioned fat cats. The greedy three, Boggis, Bunce and Bean are left to go mad, forever trying to out fox the fox. The moral of this fable, shouldn't be too sly to slide by the adult audience, while the quirky comedy,fantastic cast and marvelous animation will keep the nine to twelves mesmerized.


  1. Hi,
    Excellent review. I think Keanu Reeves was good in movie, I think he kind of stepped back for a while making movies not worth making, but he made up for all that lazy time, this time, and got paid for acting, instead of just being there. Good Job, he is a young actor, and is back on track.


  2. Hi,
    Excellent feed back. Truth be told, it's not really for any general audience but rather, for intellectuals who fancy themselves students of the art of film. For those guys and this guy just a little it's an offbeat masterpiece. I was taken up by it but I could sense that the mainstream audience was decidedly not.