Fantastic Mr. Fox is a rare breed of animated film that confuses its audience as to whether it’s appealing to adults or children. Maybe because it does both perfectly. As a stop-motion comedy it has no equal for quality and heart (except for Wallace and Gromit, of course).
Fantastic Mr. Fox came out 6 years ago (36 fox years) and remains as fresh and clever as it was in 2009. As expected with a Wes Anderson movie, the clever dialogue is driven by a perfectly selected cast including George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson.
Wes Anderson also adds his usual stylistic touch to the cinematography. Images are exponentially more colorful and vibrant than any other movie of its type. Symmetry and perfectly centered framing present unorthodox, equally proportioned shots.
Adapted from the beloved Roald Dahl novel, Wes Anderson does the source material justice in creating a story that is visually dazzling, witty, and authentic. The tale will entertain children, but contains dramatic commentary on parenthood, aging, marriage, and innate nature.
Fox is overcome with restlessness after entering a midlife crisis at 7 fox years old. Despite a promise he made to his wife, he returns to old criminal habits, stealing geese, chickens, and squab – not to support his family – but to end the boredom of civilized life. Meanwhile, dissatisfaction with his awkward, uncoordinated son continues to be a source of disappointment for him.
However, when reliving the glory days backfires and threatens the lives of all his family and friends, Fox is faced with the bitter reality that times have changed and so must he. The movie is so self aware of this cliché that Fox’s wife actually says, “This story is too predictable”, and “In the end we all die, unless you change”. However, much like 22 Jump Street, this acknowledgement of predictability makes the film even more endearing and comedic.
Fantastic Mr. Fox also contains some serious undertones about the relationship between civility and being a “wild animal”, drawing obvious parallels with the human experience. Fox tries to deny his basic instincts and live civilly, although this weighs on him until he snaps and returns to his old ways. However, this reneging nearly kills all his friends and family. In the end, Fox and his animal companions have to abandon their natural environment and live in the sewer below a grocery store. While they may have better access to food and security than before, it comes at the cost of their natural state. This reality is driven home by an interaction Fox has with a wolf in one of the last scenes. The movie comes to a grinding halt as Fox and friends admire a wolf, who with a departing gesture of solidarity runs off into the wilderness, leaving Fox to shed a single tear then return to the sewer. Fox ignominiously trades his wild nature for survival and a better life, a natural yet somber experience, much like settling down for young adults. Wes Anderson resisted the advice of his superiors to cut the wolf scene, saying, “That scene is why I’m making the movie”.
Although Fantastic Mr. Fox is far from Wes Anderson’s most famous or lauded film, it remains a shining example of high quality stop-motion and a movie with something for everyone.