Roald Dahl’s book Fantastic Mr. Fox is a great kid story and since 2009, also a classic kid movie by Wes Anderson. The book and movie both deal with a sly Mr Fox, father of one (the movie) or several (the book) living in a tree (the movie) or a foxhole (the book) who in both cases is after the goods of the nasty Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. The illustrations in the book are watercolors and full of life. They accompany the story rather than tell it. The story is told in eighteen chapters and kept my son rapt with attention. The bad guys here are pathetic rednecks and other than their bloodthirsty taste for Fox’s blood, are not really that big a threat to the crafty hero. It ends with a big feast for the fox and his underground friends and with the three losers still trying to wait fox out.
In the movie version, the animals are animated with realistic looking fur and eyes in the puppets that were used for the animation. The dialog here is for the delight of the parents watching as it is ironic with plenty of cultural references. It is a little strange that it is obviously happening in England (right-drive cars, cricket matches, and British accents from several human characters) and yet Mr. Fox has Clooney talking for him (Glenn Close, Bill Murray, and other Americans filled in many of the other character voices). I mean, I like Clooney’s voice but it was an English tale after all. Aside from the adult humor (that tartiness of Ms. Fox’s youth for example), the story is deepened with more detail on the fox family – and the hilarious twist of the ‘perfect’ yoga/karate/know-it-all cousin – and more on their friends. The idea that Mr. Fox had kicked chicken stealing for love and fell off the wagon reminds me of my own (currently losing) struggle against tobacco. It is a very entertaining 90 minutes for both kids and adults.
If asked to chose between the book and the movie, I am happy to have read the book first but found both to have their advantages. Somehow, I think I missed the movie version entirely in the cinema (but then here in France, it is possible that it lasted all of fifteen minutes on the silver screen) and was pleasantly surprised. As for the book, it was actually a random purchase in Blackstone’s of Oxford about three years ago while visiting a friend there. Funny how sometimes a chance encounter with a book can be so enriching. I can highly recommend both versions and only wish more children’s books would be so well-adapted to film. Now that I think about it, Dahl also wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Here too, the movie version (the original with Gene Wilder not the lame remake with Johnny Depp). At the risk of diverting too far from my original line of thought, the irony of Willy Wonka is extraordinary to relive as an adult. That same tongue-in-cheek is found here in Fantastic Mr. Fox although far less dark humor than in Charlie. Interesting isn’t it that both of these adaptations speak on two levels. My reading of FMF didn’t really pick up on these ironies directly so perhaps Wes Anderson was inspired by the earlier film and added the irony to this one? It would certainly be interesting to see an interview with him about this 🙂