Roald Dahl is one of the most popular children’s authors ever. Numerous adaptations of his books have made it to the big screen, but none, arguably have been completely successful (the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably the one with the most fans, but it’s by no means universally acclaimed). The latest to have a go is Wes Anderson with his version of Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-motion animation based on the novel of the same name, which was first published in 1970.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney), used to be the greatest chicken thief ever known, but he’s a husband and father now, with responsibilities and a tree with a mortgage on it. After his wife (Meryl Streep) reveals she’s pregnant when they are almost captured, he promises to stop taking risks and take up a respectable trade. But he’s also now living in the neighbourhood of Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Michael Gambon) “ three farmers, one fat, one short, one mean “ all of whom who have lovely big farms just ripe to be pilfered from. And Mr. Fox’s wild animal instincts are kicking in.
So Mr. Fox plans one final job (as nothing has ever gone wrong when anyone decides to do one final job). It’s actually three final jobs over consecutive nights, carried out with the help of Wylie, the tree’s superintendant, and Mr. Fox’s nephew, Kristofersson. This is much to the chargrin of Mr. Fox’s son Ash, who isn’t allowed to come along. Naturally, everything goes wrong and ends up with the three farmers vowing to wipe out all the local animals and Mr. Fox must redeem himself, save the day and salvage his relationship with his son.
Fantastic Mr. Fox has a very seventies look and feel about it, from the animation itself, through to the palette and fonts used “ the film has almost a kind of nostalgic feel. Its homespun feel belies the $40 million budget. This is presumably to reflect the era of when the book was released and it helps make for a visually charming film. It’s also perhaps a feature of the self-conscious quirkiness that is Anderson’s style. And this is film is very much in Anderson’s style. Admittedly, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a divergence from his norm, in that it’s his first animated movie and also his first children’s film (although arguably, as a children’s film, it’s a failure “ there’s far more here for adults than kids). However, it’s still very much a Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The cast is packed with Anderson regulars, such as Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson. It also has all the characteristics of his body of work – and Wes Anderson is a divisive director, so if you’re a fan you’ll find Fantastic Mr. Fox full of his trademark hilarious deadpan conversation, and whimsically drifting plots. If you’re not a fan, you’ll find him as unbearably pretentious and relentlessly twee as ever (for example, the voiceover was recorded outside rather than in a studio to get a more natural feel to it).
Personally, I am a fan, so I enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox, however Anderson should probably have dialled down on his own characteristics and put in more of Dahl’s “ the author’s voice is somewhat lost. Additionally, the film is allowed to drift a bit in the second half and there’s no huge sense of peril even when the farmers are threatening to kill all the animals (and if you don’t think films that are ostensibly aimed at children can have a real sense of peril then you need to watch Toy Story 3 again).