Fantastic Mr. Fox: Adaptation Paper

13 Jul

The Book

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is perhaps not Roald Dahl’s most famous work, but it might be the most beloved by those who know his writing well. It is a short children’s novel that leads readers into a fox’s den and asks larger questions about man vs. wild. Of course, in this book which is geared to children, the fox is the hero, outwitting the farmer at every turn. Mr. Fox faces an insurmountable challenge to protect his family. Interestingly, this book was written during a particularly difficult time in Roald Dahl’s life. After losing one of his sons to the measles, “[u]nderstandably, the book that resulted was a portrait of a father as family protector” (Foundas, 2009). Like Dahl, Mr. Fox tried desperately to save his family. However, unlike in Dahl’s actual life, Mr. Fox succeeds in this invented story.

Throughout the book, the farmers use increasingly challenging methods to remove the foxes from their home and the foxes simply react for the first part of the novel. They face guns, fires, farming machinery and even a siege! Dahl’s story is somewhat dark, although insanely humorous. The tail-shooting incident wherein Mrs. Fox cleans up her husband and soothes him saying that it was “the finest tail for miles around” is ridiculous (Dahl, 1970). As Mr. Fox went to bed “feeling very glum,” most readers could not help but let forth at least the tiniest giggle.

The a-ha moment arrives when Mr. Fox (who is, of course, insanely clever) exploits the stupidity of the farmers and devises a plan to tunnel into the chicken coop and “rustle up some dinner”. After this successful exploit, the foxes and their animal friends tunnel all over the farm to acquire food. The book ends without ending. Mr. Fox has outwitted the stupid farmers who continue their siege of his den while all the animals are fat, happy and mobile in their underground tunnels. The ending that leaves readers (and those pesky farmers) hanging on, maybe forever adds an aura of cynicism and even magic to children who might possibly conceive that the farmers could be waiting out the foxes… at this very moment.

The beauty of this book is how wonderfully clever and suspenseful it is, especially for its audience. Young children are drawn to the personification of animals and their accompanying traits. It also sends a broader message about changing farming methods of the 1970’s when this book was written. This was the age of a major shift in farming culture. Previous agrarian cultures were dependent upon a family that owned property and farmed it as their means of income.

Over time, larger corporations began purchasing these smaller plots of land, combining them and the corporate farm was born with ever-larger machinery and a disconnected personality from the goods they harvested. These corporations were responsible for the increased use of insecticides as they strove to make the highest amount for their products. During the 1970’s, it became clear that these toxins were having an adverse effect on local wildlife and many movements were underway to abate these practices. In short, the 1970’s saw the beginning of corporate farming and consumer backlash to a changed agrarian landscape. Amidst all of this, Mr. Fox faces down a group of idiot farmers and succeeds. The underdog – or underfox – rules the day.

The Film

Fantastic Mr. Fox was a wonderful movie that was received well by both families and critics. Released in 2009, this film garnered major attention due to its all-star cast, who, no doubt loved this book and agreed to star in it. Who would turn down such an opportunity? George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Owen Wilson truly shine in this movie. Their voices give the characters depth and excitement as the audience is drawn into a spectacle of stop-motion animation which is surprising and amazingly wonderful. Edelstein believes that “stop-motion animation and Wes Anderson were made for each other” (Edelstein, 2009). Wes Anderson masterfully captures the wonder and childlike plot of Dahl’s original book with this technique, reminding the audience all along that this is decidedly a family movie.

As with most modern family movies, humor abounds to keep both parents and children entertained. One humorous moment included Mr. Fox explaining to the possum about paranoid chickens and how you always have to kill them in one bite. Then, of course, Clooney falls into a sarcastic rant about whether or not his words are having any impact on the possum who stands there, eyes wide, with no response. “Are you listening to me? I look into your eyes and I can’t tell if you’re getting anything I’m saying.” Children find it amusing as possum stares back blankly at Mr. Fox who becomes increasingly annoyed. They get it – the possum is stupid which is pretty funny for a child. But it is mostly hilarious for parents who probably have felt this way at least a thousand times with their own children. In fact, Mr. Fox repeats this line during many similar moments throughout the film, giving an even greater comedic impact.

Critics jumped on the bandwagon praising this film, its actors and mainly, its director, Wes Anderson. Scott Foundas called it “the film is a marvel to behold” (Foundas, 2009). The Fantastic Mr. Fox is fantastic on so many levels – its perfectly suited music, amazingly lovely settings and dabbles of humor amalgamate into this wonderful spectacle. The amazingly visual experience of this movie is captivating. Steven Rea remarked that “the texture of the fur, the glow on the faces from a dusky light, the cut of the suits (of course these creatures wear clothes!) [are] simply mesmerizing” (Rea, 2009). This attention to detail gives this film about animals a wonderful, human quality and draws the audience into a sense of wonder and intrigue – just as Dahl does in his books.

Not all critics lauded this movie in its entirety. Todd McCarthy did acknowledge that this film “boasts some of the most gorgeous autumnal color schemes devised by someone other than Mother Nature herself,” yet in the next breath argued that the film’s style is “paradoxically both precious and rough-hewn…[It is] …the season’s defiantly anti-CGI toon, and its retro charms will likely appeal more strongly to grown-ups than to moppets” (McCarthy, 2009). Sadly, McCarthy cannot have it both ways – and who would want to remove one from the other? The beauty inherent in the film is its humanity, longevity of story and its humanity – even through the eyes of these furry creatures.

The Adaptation

One of the most interesting issues of adapting this work was the brevity of the original work. Clearly, much needed to be added. Yet, it was what was removed that made some critics uneasy. McCarthy worried that Anderson moved too far away from the plot into more of the “family issues” (McCarthy, 2009). Others have expressed concern that the amalgamation of all four of the Fox children into one – Ash – was misguided and too far from the original. And yet, without some logistical changes, this movie would lack the power and watchability that it carries. Audiences need to identify more with characters than issues. Additionally, much needed to be added to this film to ensure it created an entire storyline, not simply a regurgitation of a short, children’s novel.

Anderson not only brought much of his own talent to this film, he and “Baumbach make plenty of embellishments, including a third act that’s invented whole cloth, the spirit of Dahl’s story is faithfully rendered” (Tobias, 2014).  Anderson chose this book for a reason. He knew that he could bring these characters and issues to life in a beautiful, exciting and nostalgic manner. Berardinelli believed that Anderson had “unearthed his calling” in this “smooth and effortless” adaptation (Berardinelli, 2009). In fact, most Dahl purists appreciate this film and herald it “alongside Matilda as a motion picture that ‘gets’ the book and transforms its essence to the screen” (Berardinelli, 2009).

Works Cited

Anderson, Wes, Noah Baumbach, Allison Abbate, Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric C. Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker, and Roald Dahl. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Beverly Hills, CA: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp, 2010.

Berardinelli, James. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Reel Views. Nov 23, 2009. Web. July 2, 2015. http://www.reelviews.net/reelviews/fantastic-mr-fox

Dahl, Roald. Fantastic Mr. Fox. New York: Knopf, 1970. Kindle Edition. Page 14.

Edelstein, David. Fox and Friends. New York Magazine. Nov 9, 2009. Web. July 2, 2015. http://nymag.com/movies/reviews/61858/

Foundas, Scott. Wes Anderson Brings Wes Andersonness to Fantastic Mr. Fox. Village Voice. Nov 10, 2009. Web. July 2, 2015.  http://www.villagevoice.com/film/wes-anderson-brings-wes-andersonness-to-fantastic-mr-fox-6392085

McCarthy, Scott. Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox. Variety Magazine. Oct 14, 2009. Web. July 2, 2015. http://variety.com/2009/film/markets-festivals/fantastic-mr-fox-3-1200476864/

Rea, Steven. Fantastic Mr. Fox; More Than Just A Terrific Kid Flick. Philly.Com. Nov 24, 2009. Web. July 2, 2015.  http://articles.philly.com/2009-11-24/news/24988226_1_fox-fur-flick

Tobias, Scott, Nov 24, 2009. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Feb 17, 2014. Dissolve. Web. July 2, 2015. http://thedissolve.com/reviews/570-fantastic-mr-fox/

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