FILM: Fantastic Mr Fox
DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
RELEASE DATE: January 2, 2010
Fantastic Mr Fox has all the hallmarks of great children’s animation, but the message is aimed squarely at their parents.
Satirical director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling Ltd) was the perfect choice to breath cinematic life into Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book. The tale of the rascally Mr Fox and his battle with local farmers has been a favourite of parents as well as their progeny since its publication in 1970. That’s no wonder considering his fantastic antics have as much to do with family pressures as they do with poultry snatching.
The cinematic Fantastic Mr Fox is a humorous essay on mid-life crisis. The hero, voiced by George Clooney, has promised Mrs Fox (Meryl Streep) he will turn his back on raiding hen houses for the sake of his children, and take up a career as a newspaper columnist. However the ‘call of the wild’ proves too strong when he moves into the neighbourhood of the region’s three largest farms. Mr Fox starts hankering for those bygone days when his daring plans used to net him the contents of every hen-house in the country. Has he ceased to be a fox because he has forsworn his nighttime raids? “Who am I, Kylie?” Mr Fox asks his inept sidekick. “Why not a horse or a beetle or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more as like existentialism, you know?”
Children are unlikely to understand existentialism, or the identity crisis Mr Fox is undergoing. Not to worry – there are plenty of animated antics to keep them well entertained. Adults, however, will recognize the familiar problems that arise for a whole household when parents – fathers in particular – reach a certain age. Mr Fox starts worrying about whether or not he has made enough of his life. He no longer wants to live under ground (it makes him feel poor) and trades in the family den for a tree. He then begins to indulge in risky behaviour that reminds him of his youth, starts telling half-truths to his wife so he can relive that past, and even begins preferring a visiting nephew to his son because he more resembles his younger self.
The film is faithful throughout to Roald Dahl’s unique style of sharp-edged story telling. Beatrix Potter doesn’t emerge for a moment. Foxes behave exactly like the carnivores they are around chickens, though the level of violence is tame enough for young eyes. More importantly, the storyline delivers a disturbingly real outcome to Mr Fox’s irresponsible endeavours. His selfishness delivers disaster for himself, his family and all of their furry associates. Salvation rests in recognizing that his actions have consequences for everyone, and the past is a country that cannot be revisited. If Mr Fox is going to embrace maturity, he has to think beyond himself.
Fantastic Mr Fox is a thoroughly enjoyable animation for every member of the family. The kids will find characters that keep them laughing; the parents will discover the sort of humour that helps them smile at their own insecurities.