Fantastic Mr. Fox Review: Loyal in Wes Anderson’s Style and Wit but Not to the Heart of Roald Dahl’s Story

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There is something remarkably unique about a Wes Anderson film, particularly in the symmetrical visuals, the dry comedic wit, and the esoteric atmosphere. His infatuation with French New Wave cinema is fully evident in all of his films particularly in Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. However, there is no denying that Wes Anderson is only interested in his own vision, something that works in his benefit as an artist but against him as a storyteller. This isn’t to say that Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn’t have a good story nor does it mean the pacing is off. Unlike some modern adaptations of Roald Dahl’s work, specifically Tim Burton’s take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anderson is faithful to the bone structure that is the tale of a fox who steals from three evil farmers named Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. However, where the short tale dwells on animal survival in providing for his family, the film takes a drastic and post-modern off shoot to explain Mr. Fox’s stealing habits in a French existential fashion, he steals because that is who the Fox is instead of linking it to his need for survival. Where Fantastic Mr. Fox works is in it’s marvelous tapestry like visuals, great stop motion animation use, and vintage Anderson tone that will appeal mostly to Wes Anderson’s fans while alienating others to his morally ambiguous children’s tale.

It might be unfair for some to claim Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox has an ambiguous moral message to it but when a filmmaker embraces moral relativism in the post-modern age individual actions tend to be justified based on individual interpretation. This is distinctively the case for Mr. Fox, appropriately voiced by the charming and distinguished George Clooney, who has given up his instinctual and defining characteristic for stealing in order to provide a safer and more stable household for his future family. However, Anderson gives his characters the same adult psychological mindsets similar to Spike Jonze, another post-modern filmmaker, that tends to contradict the deep character motivations and reasoning that flows so easily in Anderson’s film. Since he is dealing with animals, which the film constantly refer to them as such, they have human qualities and characteristics of reasoning so there is a slight paradox to acting instinctual to acting moral. Mr. Fox is in a mid-life crisis feeling poor living in a hole and aspires for something more for himself rather than for the betterment of his entire family. So he moves into a dangerous neighborhood where three allegedly nasty farmers called Boggis, Bunce, and Bean live and are an imminent threat to Fox families safety. Fox also goes against his wife’s warnings and disapproval with his stealing faults by stealing from the three farmers putting his whole family in jeopardy. Fox does whatever is best for himself, to appease his own selfish desires and never thinks of the consequences nor does he or any character learn from their mistakes.

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Mr. Fox is a fox so therefore he steals and his responsibilities come second to his nature. While the film explores this as a consequential problem there is no real justice to be understood because they continue to steal by the end of the film but this time for better reasons. Unlike the short story, which has Fox’s stealing intentions as for his families survival rather than his own identity, the film doesn’t quite explore why the stealing is moral unless you include the alleged proclamation that the three farmers are bad people. While the film does eventually show the farmer’s obsessions, especially in Bean voiced by the always remarkable Michael Gambon, and their actions as evil, but doesn’t even hint at Fox’s own selfishness and personal actions that set in motion the consequences that effect more than just his family. This wouldn’t be such a drastic flaw to the film if a justification or character self-realization was ever explored, but that would require a sense of moral standards that is not existent in existentialism. Actions are based on individual understanding and cannot be told otherwise that they cannot act their own way in achieving their own identity.

This almost seems that this writer doesn’t approve of Wes Anderson’s artistic interpretation but that is far from the truth. Anderson is a unique visionary who accentuates his peculiar view with outstanding visuals, esoteric characters, and a humble devotion to subtleties. However, when dealing with a Roald Dahl story, someone who usually involved complex moral messages to his otherwise strange worlds, it can be rather difficult to stay in tune with that message when encompassed in your own bias of the world. There is no denying that Fantastic Mr. Fox is indeed Anderson’s work despite him directing the entire piece from France (not once stepping into the actual production). This shows a dedication to his vision one that can be successfully conveyed to a production crew that has brought his script to life. A lot can be said for the obviously unique take on stop motion animation and was a great choice in bringing this particular story to life. And the vintage Anderson dry wit is in full form with a great voice acting cast that includes Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Meryl Streep, and Jason Schwartzman. Fantastic Mr. Fox is definitely a good movie that has all of Anderson’s strengths evident throughout the story but it also has most of Anderson’s faults, a detachment from being a successful director of someone else’s vision.

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The familiar atmosphere of Anderson’s previous works will be intentionally obvious for most of his fans and it works for this more than peculiar story of a fox and his mid-life crisis. But it’s not an accurate adaptation of Roald Dahl’s vision and is instead another example of Wes Anderson’s alienating world. His ability to depict these unique surroundings shows his strengths as an artist but not his ability to have his stories resonate with most audiences. The film has a lively pace and doesn’t dwell on unnecessary segments so it’s effectively put together and visually stunning. It might go over most children’s heads but that isn’t the fault of the filmmaker and more the fault of the culture in today’s children. But to take a short story that has an obvious moral message including justifications for otherwise immoral actions and making it a post-modern examination of identity in an animal that couldn’t fully embody such an ability for rationalization, it just shows that Wes Anderson makes films for himself and not to connect with others.

Grade: B

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