2009 In Review: ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ – The Perfect Marriage of Filmmaker and Source Material

Film nerds around the country were really into Wes Anderson in 2009. The director had some massive hits under his belt, including The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket, and Rushmore. However, he was coming off of The Darjeeling Limited, a movie that divided his fanbase. It embraced some of his worst tendencies as a filmmaker, and never felt as ambitious as The Life Aquatic. Instead, it landed with a thud, and with 2007 becoming one of the best years for cinema in recent memory, the hate was compounded. As Anderson began to appear in commercials for credit cards it was unclear how he was going to transition his career to bigger, more ambitious properties. There were also many who thought he could not make another mainstream hit. I distinctly remember getting into arguments with fellow cinephiles who hated everything about him. The melancholy, privileged, diorama style was offputting to many.

Then, Fantastic Mr. Fox hit like a freight train. For those who dislike the style of animation, it did little to quell their concerns. For those who loved Roald Dahl, Anderson, or George Clooney heist films, it was like a thunderbolt from God. The quirky, silly, wildly entertaining feature brought together the best elements of Anderson’s meticulous set design and ridiculous humor. The heightened world of foxes, marriage, family, greed, and mid-life crisis became one of Anderson’s greatest works. An independent master had broken through the noise with his most accessible film to date. He had crafted something so unique to his vision, you can never imagine it being told in any other fashion.

The Moment I Fell in Love With Fantastic Mr. Fox

The opening sequence of Wes Anderson’s adaptation sets the stage for the rest of the film. Mr. Fox (Clooney) and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) go on a bird hunt, only to be captured. When Mrs. Fox tells Mr. Fox that she’s pregnant, he vows to change his ways. Not only do we instantly understand how irresponsible Mr. Fox has always been, but it also brings out his charismatic and charming sides. It also sets up a strong juxtaposition to Mrs. Fox, the more sensible and responsible partner in the marriage. We get some good old fashioned pop music, a zany heist sequence, and showcases some of the slapstick humor that would be present throughout the film.

There’s something about the scene that immediately lets you know the perfection of the marriage between Anderson and the source material. Anderson’s incredibly complex set design stands out instantly. The humor is in his wheelhouse and doesn’t stray too far from the silliness of a Dahl novel. Even the puppets look different from other stop-motion or claymation puppets. It also shows you Fox at his physical and mental peak, setting the stage for the seeming disappointment in his weird son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and his impending mid-life crisis.

Most Rewatchable Scene 

There are plenty of individual moments that work in the film, but no singularly rewatchable scene. Perhaps the one that could come to mind are the heists with Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), but more because of the visual gag of Kylie’s eyes than anything. You can also make an argument for Mr. Fox and Badger (Bill Murray) fighting about the house (“Are You Cussing At Me?” “The Cuss You Will!”). The screenplay crackles with hilarious one-liners, most of which belong to the petulant Ash (Jason Schwartzman) or frustrated Badger.

On the human side, you’re constantly put at odds by the evil trio that hunts Mr. Fox. However, Bean (Michael Gambon) is so evil that it comes off as cartoonish at times. His berating of his employees (“You wrote a bad song Petey”), or wearing Mr. Fox’s tail make it clear it is performative at times. The trio works like the Three Stooges of incompetence, making them some of the purest adaptations of Dahl villains in cinematic history. Anytime they’re on screen, your attention is drawn to their next dumb idea.

The Best Scene

The final heist/breakout stands above the rest of the feature. It is not only the most complex in terms of its set design, but to have the animals go to war with Boggis, Bunce, and Bean provides some genuinely hilarious images. With grenade pinecones thrown about and each animal getting his moment in the sun, audiences get tossed into the excitement. You can also point to the emotional climax of the characters meeting in the sewers, where Mr. Fox gets told off for being selfish and immature. It’s a scene that lets you know Mr. Fox is not getting off the hook despite the love his family feels towards him.

Why You Should Watch It Again

Every once in a while, there are animated films that really showcase what is possible within the genre. Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of those that astounds every time out. It shows the visual flexibility and creativity that can be accomplished when a true artist puts their heart into the story. Releasing the same year as Coraline (to be covered later), it also reinvigorated the importance of stop-motion in the modern animation landscape.

Perhaps most surprising of all, there’s a fair argument to be made that Fantastic Mr. Fox could be Anderson’s single best film. It’s funny, charming, uses his aesthetic to its absolute peak, and features a large ensemble. It reinvigorated the director with Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel as his two incredible followups. The fact that Isle of Dogs was perceived as a disappointment is entirely tied to how impressive Fantastic Mr. Fox turned out.

While Netflix is working on a series of Roald Dahl adaptations, as it currently stands, Fantastic Mr. Fox is likely the best cinematic adaptation of his work as well. While Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory still has its fans, this was an auteur taking control of the material and using the story for his style. Unlike The BFG or Willy Wonka, each of those films is a simple studio film trying to bring the world to life. Fantastic Mr. Fox has vision, and that makes it a more visually and narratively exciting tale. As a nearly perfect slapstick heist comedy, Fantastic Mr. Fox continues to be a surprise classic.

What do you think of Fantastic Mr. Fox? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Check out our 2009 In Review Series, running for the next three weeks at We Bought a Blog. Check back for a new film every day!