Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)

“I’m saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?”

Introduction

I was initially very excited to see this – I like the indie-Wes-Anderson style and I was keen to see a new adaptation of a Roald Dahl book. The adverts looked impressive – stop-go-motion effects with meerkat-posture foxes and then, suddenly it was given this credible publicity campaign as it was billed for the opening night gala for The London Film Festival. The voices were big guns – George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman – the list goes on. I am keen, I am excited and – following Jo’s recommendation, at the Barbican, I managed to watch it …

What I reckon …

From the first moment you see the foxes you are chuckling to yourself – they walk with a prim-delicate touch. Pointy feet and, as stated, posture like you see of meerkats. Seeing Mrs. Fox and Mr. Fox run around – their slender bodies zipping up and down, suddenly up-close, suddenly far away and talking with the speed of their movement. Its such a funny sight – and so unique. I have no idea what other director could create such characters – the stop-go-motion adds to the rural unique atmosphere and, therefore adds to the comedy.

Mark Kermode mentioned a ‘smug’ and ‘talkative’ attitude and it is very chatty – but that is more a trait of the foxes themselves and the animals. They are plenty of examples of visual comedy – one sequence as the foxes rob a house you see their actions through video-camera feeds only. Reminded me of the start of Snatch actually. Another sequence as Fox and Rat fight and electricity lights up sporadically while they do so. Even some stunning silhouettes of characters – such as a wolf on a hill and as Beansy lighting a cigarette in a doorway – visually engaging. Yes they are chatty but its hardly a bad call on Wes Andersons part – it just happens to go against the target audience that is children.

Children shouldn’t really have to work out what the word ‘Cuss’ replaces (four letters, begins with F…) because that is adult in its content. Comedy about existentialism isnt easy for kids to understand funnily enough. Those jokes when a character talks for long periods and then all the other characters look at the character in awe/shock and its funny – for kids, they would probably assume that they just don’t get the joke. Referring to animals by the latin-name … is this really comedy for kids? I don’t think the bugs in A Bugs Life would do such a thing. Having listen to Adam and Matty’s Filmspotting podcast on Where the Wild Things Are they discuss how the darkness of Jonzes’ movie is missed often with kids movies -and he’s right – but one thing most childrens-filmmakers don’t forget is the language kids understand – the actual words they hear and whether they understand it. I’m a teacher and I wouldn’t use a word like Existentialism without explaining what it means to 16 year olds!

This is a kids film that seems to target educated young adults. We see the 2D rolling pans that I recall in NES and Sega Master System computer games – even Abe’s Odyssey and Abe’s Exodus had 2D rolling movement as the game progressed – but suddenly showed the 3D layers of the environment much like Fantastic Mr. Fox did. Retro-computer games methinks … then we have the point-of-view of the dogs running around – as if we control him in some sort of shoot-em-up game. These link not to current children – but the children ten, fifteen years prior. Morricone-style music as a Western as the film finishes … really what kids like to see? Ultimately the theme of capitalism is something that, as adults we see more of in our life than kids. The idea “I dont want to be poor” ” but we are poor” – greed and materialism of the eighties and nineties. Though simple concepts – they are not concepts or issues children have to face. Children get their money from their parents. Maybe the one aspect kids would relate to is Ash and Kristofferson – the idea that, akin to Buzz and Woody, a new kid comes into town who is, ultimately, better than you. Then again, the role of the father is an important aspect – and more importantly how the child looks up to his flawed father so much is also worth mentioning.

It does look fantastic – and that rural tone, as first mentioned, is the biggest plus point and is something that is unique to this. The corduroy jackets and patchwork and textured land reminds me of the textures on Woody’s clothing in Toy Story. I always remember stop-go-motion as the effects-that-never-were on Jurassic Park before Stan Winston and ILM stampeded over Phil Tippetts stop-go-motion possibilities. Clearly stop-go-motion and Phil Tippett are still in the job and can make stunning films (not Starship Troopers 3) without having to concede defeat to CGI.

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8 comments

  1. Just a quick thought… Has Anderson actually ever suggested that he intentionally made this film for children?

    Clearly it has been marketed that way and it is based on a 'Children's' book but did he want to make it for children or just for himself in a way. We have already discussed on the pod the extent to which it carries his signature style.

    However, it is important not to underestimate children i think – while this may have gone straight over the head of a lot of younger ones, it may just have made a few think and realise that there are alternative types of story to the sugar coated Disney Pixar staples. An inspiration to start making films or just think more about what they are consuming – perhaps, just perhaps.

  2. In addition to Richard's rather charming point is it not possible that Anderson is putting in some stuff that will actually widen children's minds? Get them thinking outside the box? Get them outside? The existentialism quote is a tricky one but with some of the stuff might kids go and out and read more about what they're just heard. The latin names sequence is pretty bizarre, but it doesn't feel like a lecture. Is Mr Fox not introducing a new concept to people in his fun and charming way, people can then read more about animals Latin names or their skills or whatever and then maybe observe them in the wild or somesuch. I dunno, I'm not an educator.

    Also with the swearing, come on! If a child is smart they'll work out roughly what the joke is and maybe be happy at not being completely patronised with regards to language. The film generally brings up some dark and difficult issues like the evilness of the farmers (and farming?), purpose and people not getting along. The Ash and Kristofferson stuff is hilarious (“You know why. Because I'm little” Jo can relate) but also is true. Bullying. Stupidly complicated sports. It's funny and serious stuff that kids can relate to done in a non patronising way. Maybe?

    I found the film rather charming but don't know how children will relate to it because I don't interact with them every day. Cuss you mothercusser. And Peace Out.

  3. 1) Maybe he didn't make it for children. But if its marketed that way and it is based on a childrens book then he has to take some responsibility. He could have made Fantastic Mr Mole using Dahl as inspiration. He didn't. he used the kids book and twisted it to suit his own intentions. And is that right?

    2) Sugar-coated Pixar… might be bright colours but 'Up' is hardly sugar coated. Its about mourning! Wall-E … the last robot left on the earth following our destruction of the world. These are intelligent delivered to kids in a way they understand it…

    3) “the exitelntialism quote” children won't get. period. unless they are home-educated and, somehow, existentialism is part of their KEY STAGE 2 (!!) curriculum. It is possible that they might be interested in that one quote (hmm) enough to research it … but I doubt that very much.

    4) the latin-names sequence. The comedy is in the fact that he uses latin-names. You'll only get that if you know what latin is. and you know that animals latin-names are used in research sectors of society. otherwise the (inaccurate) comedy is simply in thefact that Fox is calling animals silly names. ha ha ha. Same with the whole existentialism issue. You'll only get the joke if you know what the word – and the concept – means. If you don't … well … thats tricky.

    To finish – its all fair and well saying that more-intelligent approaches to childrens films is neccessary. it is. But there is a reason that you don't bring out Milton or Shakespeare for kids who have only just begun to grasp what a verb is. let alone a metaphor. let alone the words to describe the description of word-meanings themselves. There are ways, gradually, to educate a child. You don't bring out the existentialism and latin before kids understand the nature of religion and language in the first place. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Primary School teachers teach such things to kids …

  4. 1) Ultimately you have to make a film for yourself if you're going to make a really good one as you know what you like i suppose.

    There are plenty of excellent animations that aren't for children – Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir! So making them is fine and I don't think just because the source material is for children that the film version has to be – it is a completely different product. Every child is told the Easter story, but you wouldn't show them 'The Passion of The Christ'!

    I think it's just a fact that the marketing was wrong – they just went for the money and Anderson is guilty only for playing around with the story a bit too much as it was excellent anyway.

    2) I agree that the two films mentioned have some more mature and sophisticated elements, there is a reason why they have stood out in recent times! Yet still they have very straight humour – slapstick and childish jokes. The humour of the fox is of a different kind.

    3) I don't think that the sentence makes no sense if you don't understand what existentialism is – it's just a little something extra for those who do. perhaps just lets you know this isn't talking to you in a baby voice.

    4) It's possible that Children will know what Latin is. Irrespective, I don't understand Latin and don't know what these Animals were called in Latin but I found this quite funny – perhaps it is just the silly names thing really – A comment on the fact that humans have given them these names and they are silly and meaningless.

    To finish – I, for one, teach Milton and Shakespeare as introductory texts in Year 7 English and think that it is a shame that you have such low expectations of your students.

  5. shit. go straight for the jugular. no need to be sensible, simply make your point and knock my profession. on a public blog. lovely.

    erm … so, fantastic mr. fox. do i understand latin? no. but i know that it is latin and that animals are referred to in latin, i think, in research documents … do [pre-secondary-school] kids know about that side of the language? or do they just see it as silly names? probably the latter.

    I'll leave it at that. Cheap shot man. Re-read the bit about milton/shakespeare because it was more about learning step-by-step … if kids cannot read, construct or criticise a sentence then you won't be teaching them shakepeare now will you? whether they are in Yr2, Yr7 or Yr11.

  6. For anyone who doesn't realise what was going on here. My comments about teaching milton and shakespeare to year 7 were fanciful – please don't expect me to educate your children on the subjects.

  7. I cannot speak for older children as my little one is three, but he loved Fantastic Mr Fox yet was pretty bored through Up, and never got to the end of Wall-E. I would be more inclined to say that these films resonate better with adults than they do with children – moreso than Fantastic Mr Fox. I recognise that my son's experience only refers to part of the 'children' demographic. I guess the problem here is the definition of children. When does a child become a young person / young adult and all that. Simon, I guess if you work in a school you see the massively varying comprehension of the world that children and young people have. I saw this during my time working in the Youth Service, it is so difficult to peg them down to certain characteristics or tastes.

    Regarding what I thought of the film, I figured I would capitalise on the linked in new media world we live in and post a link to my blog.

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