Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, Brian Cox, Owen Wilson
Having made a name for himself with five live-action features, it was somewhat of a left field decision for auteur Wes Anderson to take on a stop-motion animation project in 2009, yet with his adaptation of the iconic Roald Dahl children’s story “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, Anderson would put to use his ten-plus years of being inspired by animation (seen most clearly in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) to assemble a quirky and charming film complete with a typical ensemble cast led in this case by George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray.
While the Americanisation of British author Roald Dahl’s original novel may anger some purists, the general consensus upon Fantastic Mr. Fox’s release was that Anderson had done a fine job of marrying the iconic novelist’s work with his own distinctive style, keeping the majority of the story beats from the novel and adding dashes of Andersonian quirkiness and humour. In 2009, Empire noted: “In this era of photo-realising the fantastic and precision-made stop-motion prettyscapes, it is oddly gratifying to find that Wes Anderson, in his first sole venture into an animated universe, is having none of it. He is still busy ploughing his wry indie groove, only now in the guise of miniature foxes of rubbery complexion.”
In Anderson’s adaptation, the story plays out in a similar vein to Dahl’s original tale with our titular Mr Fox, once a con artist, undertaking a daring heist on farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean who farm Chicken, Goose, and Duck, Turkey and Apple, respectively. There are, however, added touches with the rivalry for Mr Fox’s attention between Ash and his cousin Kristofferson, which add some depth and heart to the story, Anderson also managing to find room for some trademark music cues with tracks from The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys.
The voice cast are a particular highlight, with a mix of Anderson regulars including Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe, and newcomers George Clooney and Meryl Streep. Clooney fits Mr Fox perfectly, reminiscent perhaps of his work in the Ocean’s franchise, while Streep’s softness as Mrs Fox balances out Clooney’s wry Mr Fox to great effect, with Bill Murray slipping in well as iconic side character Badger.
The fusion of Anderson’s distinctive style and Dahl’s more anglo-centric tale is an odd marriage that works exceptionally well, which is no small part due to the score of regular collaborator Alexandre Desplat. Marking the duo’s first collaboration, Fantastic Mr. Fox is lifted by the great composer’s work, Desplat earning an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Score category (an award he would go on to win for his work in collaboration with Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel). Deplat’s work here feels engrained in the rural locations of the film, complementing Anderson’s immersive animation and adding to the film’s sense of escapist fun.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is certainly one of Wes Anderson’s most ambitious films, taking an acclaimed story from one of the most recognisable names in children’s literature and daring to put his own stamp on it. For the most part he pulls this off in characteristic fashion, channelling the key story beats and themes of the novel whilst ensuring his own take remains very much a recognisable Anderson work. A charming, wry and incredibly fun film that took Anderson’s career in unexpected and intriguing directions, Fantastic Mr. Fox is humourous on the screen and adventurous behind the scenes, a film likely to please both adults and children alike.