Over a decade ago, Wes Anderson made a stop motion adaption of the beloved children’s book Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl, as his sixth feature film. Eleven years later, the film still holds up as a charming, witty, and aesthetic movie. Watching it again for the first time since I was eight years old, I appreciate Anderson’s film as more than just the average kid’s flick.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a lesson in the art of storytelling. The film begins two years in the past with Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) in their youth, executing a chicken heist. The plan is almost a success until the two get caught in a trap. Here, Mrs. Fox tells Mr. Fox she’s pregnant and that if they get out of the trap alive, he has to promise her to never steal again. Cutting to the present, Mr. Fox now works for the local newspaper and is happily married to Mrs. Fox with their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman). As the familiar trope of suburban family life goes, Mr. Fox yearns for the excitement of his youth and wonders about the meaning of his existence. It is this mid-life crisis that inspires the mass thievery from farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, as narrated in Dahl’s book. Clocking in at only an hour and twenty-six minutes run time, Anderson uses every bit of dialogue to advance both the plot and the film’s wider message.
The way the movie is told is classic Wes Anderson, further securing his auteur status. The colour pallet is full of invitingly warm yellows, oranges, burgundies, and browns. The camera work is simple; mostly consisting of wide stills that show off Anderson’s notorious symmetrical shots and creative compositions. Sometimes Anderson utilises zoom-ins or camera pans to follow characters through entertaining fights and well-choreographed heists that create momentum and excitement. Storytelling sequences are also used throughout, such as during Mr. Fox’s heist plan, but mostly the still shots allow for the craftmanship of the stop animation to speak for itself. Closeups of characters are also heavily featured, giving them humanity and allowing them to convey a lot of emotion.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is certainly a great-looking movie but what is it all about? Although Mr. Fox’s character is silly and outlandish, a lot of his dialogue indicates insecurity and introspection. He wonders aloud, “Who am I… Why a fox, why not a horse, beetle, or a bald eagle?”, often answering his misgivings by disregarding himself as just a “wild animal”. When the consequences of Mr. Fox’s thieving result in the endangerment of his family and friends, Mr. Fox admits to his wife “I think I need everyone to think I’m the greatest, the…fantastic Mr. Fox”. While others see him this way, Mr. Fox’s insecurities lie in the possibility that he’s just a wild animal. These self-doubts are answered, not by any of the characters to whom he poses these sentiments, but rather by a wolf. Unlike Mrs. Fox and other characters in this film, the wolf, pictured before the backdrop of uninhabited wilderness, cannot understand or speak to Mr. Fox. Instead of answering Mr. Fox’s inquiries, the wolf just stares back, prompting Mr. Fox to realise that the wolf is truly wild, as he sheds a tear and remarks, “what a beautiful creature.” He then raises a fist, a movement the wolf reciprocates before running out of the frame. It is at this moment that Mr. Fox gains contentment, full acceptance of his imperfect self, and life. He realises that all of us are wild animals, and while sometimes we dazzle and amaze each other, or possibly hurt those around us, this messy, exciting, mundane, superb, and delicate existence we entertain is beautiful, or to re-phrase, fantastic.
Image: Lucius Kwok via Flickr