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Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
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Nov 25, 2009

Read in November, 2009

Read an excerpt from the Stop Smiling review of Wes Anderson's film adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox...

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Directed by Wes Anderson
20th Century Fox

Reviewed by Sarah Silver

Wes Anderson’s instantly recognizable storybook manner of filmmaking — characters smack dab in the middle of symmetrical frames, crowded by descriptive personal paraphernalia — owes much to the traditionally clear, organized style of children’s literature and comic books. Libraries are revered in both Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, the latter going so far as to open with a bird’s-eye view of an eponymous book being stamped and checked out to an invisible book-lover. Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s novella, begins by paying homage to nearly every Disney children’s book adaptation from Snow White to The Jungle Book to Robin Hood: a stop-motion animated book opens, reminding us to respect the written word behind the story to come.

Anderson’s affinity for Fox makes sense, since the anti-hero is a rapscallion struggling to balance animal instincts with paternal responsibilities — an apt description of the typical Andersonian father figure (Herman Blume, Royal Tenenbaum, Steve Zissou) cracking under the pressure of midlife crisis. Mr. Fox, a.k.a. Foxy, is fed up with his family’s underground dwelling and, against the advice of his lawyer (a badger), he acts on his itch to move his family into a tree perilously close to the farms of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, who have a variety of specialties (chickens, ducks, and turkeys and cider, respectively) and a shared hatred of thieving foxes. Foxy, an unstoppable bandit in his youth, can’t seem to get thieving off his mind, so he enlists his friend Kylie the Opossum (the “o” is pronounced) to undertake with him one last act of grand larceny, which turns out, in fact, to be threefold: steal the prized goods of first Boggis, then Bunce, then Bean.

Although a stop-motion animation film may seem at first blush like strange new territory for Anderson, a film that allows the nit-picking director to micromanage everything — from the needles on which the characters’ sweaters are knit (hand-whittled ones) to how often they blink (surprisingly infrequently by stop-motion standards) — is actually the next logical step in his career. While his earlier films already prove too much for Anderson’s critics, who accuse him of solipsism and self-indulgence, they are nothing if not impressive proof of the degree to which an auteur can have control over every aspect of his films, to a degree on par with Hitchcock and Tati. But, for all their exacting direction, neither of those artists ever oversaw the creation, out of wire and plasticine, of his entire cast, and then went on to have final approval of each character’s every facial expression.

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