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#TBT review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

by Lainey Harlow, Junior Editor

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Rating: 10/10

Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson

Director: Wes Anderson

MPAA Rating: PG

In anticipation for Wes Anderson’s upcoming Isle of Dogs, I recently rewatched his first animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, for the first time since its release over eight years ago. An adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s novel, the film captures Dahl’s offbeat, dark comic genius perfectly…and then some.

The same basic plot is present: an anthropomorphic Fox, father, and husband steals from and outwits three local farmers in order to feed his family. The film, however, expands Mr. Fox’s background to one of a character torn between his civilized fatherly duties and his innate, wild instincts. The film also develops Mr. Fox’s relationships with his wife, his former partner in crime who made him promise to end his thieving shenanigans, his eccentric son, Ash, and his athletically gifted nephew, Kristofferson.

Ash, like his father, faces internal conflict in his unwillingness to accept his unorthodox ways, such as his wearing a cape, and his desire to be seen as powerful, athletic, and accepted. His insecurity is furthered by the presence of Kristofferson, whose athletic prowess and instant connection with Mr. Fox inspires envy in Ash.

Anderson’s most notable and beloved stylistic touches meet captivating stop motion animation, creating a symphony for the eyes in which every shade, movement, and scene plays a distinct instrument. From Mrs. Fox’s bright yellow dress and detailed paintings to Kristofferson’s cold blue eyes, each sight comes across as equal parts unsettling and aesthetically pleasing.

There is one thing to keep in mind about Anderson’s take on the children’s tale: it is one hundred percent deliciously disturbing. Whether he is ravenously eating a meal or being shot at by the three farmers, the audience is constantly reminded that Mr. Fox is a wild animal. And, by the film’s end, we are similarly reminded that, in part, we are all wild animals.

What is so captivating about the film is its ability to serve as both a children’s film and a mature, dark comedy. On the surface, perhaps to a young viewer, Anderson relates a simple, albeit stunning, account of a fox running from the antagonists and cracking jokes along the way.

Dig a little deeper and an unsettling truth is quickly revealed: the farmers are not the bad guys. From the animal perspective, they are evil, selfish brutes who present a very near threat to their ability to survive and find food. But isn’t that just what the farmers are attempting to do? Survive and provide for their families?

Beyond its whimsically simple, yet painstakingly detailed visuals and instrumentals, Anderson’s take on the novel serves as a thought-provoking allegory for human nature and the beast within. The humans give into an overwhelming need for revenge, spending weeks hunting down the animals and scaring them deeper and deeper into the ground. Mr. Fox falls victim to his own primal, animalistic desire to hunt and provide for his family.

This very connection between man and beast is what makes Anderson’s adaptation worth watching and rewatching (and perhaps rewatching again). The film’s conclusion, in which we see the animals remain hidden underground with a tunnel leading to a grocery store from which they steal, shows the animal’s dancing happily despite a disheartening toast: “to our survival”. Not to our joy. Not to our prosperity. Mere survival.

Fantastic Mr. Fox serves as a reminder that, although we may wear the shining masks of wealth or domestic life, there is in all of us some degree of chaos. For Mr. Fox, the acceptance and awareness of his wild nature, signified by his saluting a non-domesticated wolf, finally brings the balance he has lacked for the entire film. It is balance, not perfection, that the film encourages, for fabricated purity and excellence can only give way to even greater disorder.

In addition to some wonderfully chilling symbolism that will make your skin crawl, the film sports an ensemble cast featuring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson. Wilson and Murray have appeared in almost all of Anderson’s films and, despite having smaller roles, brought the same dry, quick humor. Streep’s serious, no-nonsense delivery perfectly fits the role of a concerned and betrayed wife and mother. Her most piercing line, “I love you, but I shouldn’t have married you” unfolds yet another dark layer, as she too is split between her love and her need for security. Clooney’s quick and lively speech is quite fitting as well, as he often gives the impression of thinking too rapidly to get the words out.

If you’re looking to watch a charming family flick, come for the laughs not the twisted shades of meaning. Likewise, the story can make you question and ponder if you so desire. That’s the beauty of this and many of Anderson’s other films: the subtle darkness of the character development and dialogue is paired with the sunny, glowing look of his signature design and aesthetic. Whether watching through the proverbial rose-tinted glasses or magnifying glass, you’re bound to enjoy this truly fantastic gem.

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