I saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox last Thursday. It is easily my favorite Wes Anderson movie and my favorite Roald Dahl adaptation, making it a double threat. The animation is beautiful, the humor is spot on, Anderson’s strange sentimentality is drawn out nicely and the voice acting is superb. Mr. Fox has a good surface message – we’re all a bit *hand wave* different and insecure in our own ways – and is weird and dark enough to make it a classic. And like all great kids’ movies it has a deeper, more subversive message. Spoilers ahead.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox is about the process of civilization and self-domestication. All of the main characters – save the evil triumvirate of Boggis, Bunce and Bean – are animals that have adapted to living in the world of humans. Foxes, badgers, beavers, rats, rabbits, and opossums are urban and suburban creatures. They live along side people and have adapted to eating what we produce and living in buildings we build. They’ve also picked up our neuroses and ennui.
The journey of the Fox family is not a hard-and-fast allegory for any particular arc, but the core symbolic movement of Mr. Fox involves the movement from a hole in the ground, to a home in a tree, to a sewer system beneath a supermarket. Echoes of poverty to wealth, rural to urban, and scarcity to abundance come with the trajectory, but I don’t think any one of those themes is the specific focus. Instead, we come to see Mr. Fox suffer a midlife crisis that threatens the whole community.
The vibe of Mr. Fox is intentionally jarring. Badger, the lawyer, wears a lovely pinstripe suit and advises Mr. Fox to not move into the tree which, though much nicer than his current hole, is in a “bad neighborhood.” The creatures of the film are overly civilized most of the time and weirdly self-aware (knowing their own scientific names, having droll debates that turn into circling snarl fests), yet will occasionally behave as if they are actually just animals (carrying a chicken in jaws, gobbling food). The breaks in civility are highlighted by both the contrast with the animals’ own actions and in their perception by human beings. That Boggis, Bunce, and Bean try to hold Kristofferson hostage and send a magazine-letter note to get to Mr. Fox is perhaps one of the most bizarre suspensions of disbelief the film asks us to make. We are forced to see the animals as instinctual creatures, as having a parallel culture to humans, and as existing within human civilization.
While the most wild animal moments are contrasted against the humans of Mr. Fox, the most civilized moment is contrasted against the only “wild” animal in the film: a lone, black wolf. Throughout the film, Mr. Fox’s fear of wolves is emphasized. It isn’t a natural wariness as one would expect from a fox, but a phobia: an irrational terror. The normally smooth and poised Fox loses his composure every time Kylie, the simple but loyal opossum, accidentally brings up the topic. The scene with the wolf occurs with both the city and the mountains in sight. The wolf is majestic, resolute, and unbound by language. It serves as a reminder that foxes once were wild creatures but that now they are not: they are urban fauna.
The final point that The Fantastic Mr. Fox seems to be making is that all of these parts of our personalities – the inner animal, the civilized social self, the rule-breaking survivor, and the concerned family member – are all our real selves. To give ourselves too much to any aspect leads to a neglect of the others and a sense of internal disunity. But really, I’m not sure if there is a moral or a point to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I came away from it thinking about how we are the summation of our lives, yet also only what we are at any given moment and that we’re all “different,” whatever that means.
It’s a lovely film. Go see it.
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