Fantastic Mr. Fox Review

Originally a book by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox has been adapted for the big screen by Wes Anderson using stop-motion animation and a collection of stars to voice the various woodland characters. Most of these voices, perhaps significantly the animals, are voiced by American actors, which has lead to critiscim by many that Anderson has Americanised Dahl’s beloved book.

Watching Fantastic Mr. Fox does not feel like watching an American film though, or even a Roald Dahl adaptation, you are without doubt watching the latest Wes Anderson film. If this sounds like a travesty and you are not a Wes Anderson fan already, the chances are you are going to hate this film. Large elements of Roald Dahl’s story and style remain but they have been merged with those of Anderson. The merging is a successful one though, with Anderson finding a good match in the equally unique Roald Dahl.

When writing the film Anderson travelled with co-writer Noah Baumbach to Dahl’s home, Gypsy House, in Great Missenden and spent time with Dahl’s widow, who gave Anderson the rights to make the film. It is an interesting predicament when adapting the work of a unique artist as to whether to try and stay true to the original and risk creating a bland copy or put a new spin on a classic and risk creating something indistinguishable from the original. In Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson has done neither, he has created a film that retains a lot of what made the book a Dahl classic but at the same time has made a uniquely Wes Anderson film.

In choosing stop-motion animation Anderson has also found a perfect format for his filmmaking. In all his films he has been striving to create a world in which his characters inhabit that is his singular vision. So many of his films have the most incredible minutiae of detail, from the music boxes in Hotel Chevalier to the hand painted dalmatian mice in The Royal Tenenbaums. With stop-motion Anderson has been given the ability to control every detail, to create a world that is entirely his own creation. As a long term fan of Wes Anderson, this is a world I am so happy to be a part of and bar the sad moments I had a wide smile from beginning to end.

The use of stop-motion as opposed to the current popularity for CGI 3D in animation also recalls the British television shows of my childhood with the tone at times bringing to mind work by great animators such as Oliver Postgate and Martin Rosen. Wes Anderson has even commented that his favourite films as a child were the Martin Rosen directed Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, two films that a lot of Brits will remember from their childhood. Wes Anderson’s use of stop-motion, or more accurately the team of animator’s application of stop-motion, is masterful in it’s execution, making use of it’s ‘limitations’, with the invisible wind (caused by the repositioning of the puppets) ruffling the fur of the characters in a truly naturalistic way. Anderson also made a point of recording the voiceovers not in studios but in real locations leading to wonderful performances and happy accidents in the sound mixes.

It has been asserted by many critics that this is not a film for children and the marketing and half term release placement is a red herring. Critics, including British critic Mark Kermode on his radio show with Simon Mayo, have criticised the film, claiming that Wes Anderson has made the film for adults and for his small group of fans who get the jokes about existentialism and the dysfunctional family represented. This seems a problematic assumption by an adult film critic and goes down a road of speaking for other demographics that I personally try to avoid. Following the release of modern Hollywood blockbusters (GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra andTransformers: Revenge of the Fallen being recent examples) that seem to have infantilized big budget cinema, and appear to be pitched at adults as much as at children, I am happy to see a film that is working the opposite way. It is a children’s film that does not condescend to children and is a film that a child could perhaps grow up loving and the film will grow up with them. Admittedly, a child will most likely not get a joke about existentialism but this does not mean it should not be there. Granted the film should not hang purely on these moments but Fantastic Mr. Fox does not, it is exciting, action packed, and hilarious even on a surface level which you don’t need to be a knowledgeable intellectual to enjoy. Time will tell if the Fantastic Mr Fox can appeal to young minds but this adult mind was quickly transported to a childlike wonder and I wish I had the chance to grow up with this marvellous film.