Helveticus Indiefilmicus

Fantastic Mr. Fox is one cuss of a good movie, as long as you like Wes Anderson.

“What if Wes Anderson wrote and directed an animated movie based on a children’s book?” sounds like the premise for a YouTube parody video. Martin Scorcese’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, followed by Quentin Tarantino’s The Wind in the Willows and Woody Allen’s Basil of Baker Street. And Fantastic Mr. Fox would fit right into that video.

It is completely, unapologetically, 100% a stop motion version of a Wes Anderson movie, from Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in the credits, to the 60s pop and harpsichord and strings on the soundtrack, to the scene where the brash and arrogant title character makes a casually bittersweet connection with his son. The biggest departure I could see was that he used Helvetica instead of Futura on his yellow chapter title text.

But then, I wasn’t looking for a big departure. And as someone who loves Wes Anderson movies (Darjeeling Limited excepted), I loved Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s loaded with style and cleverness, and all the people involved in the animation, art direction, character design, and voice direction were at the top of their game. It’s a movie about animals, but the human characters are brilliantly realized as well. And it perfectly achieves that holy grail of “family movies:” genuinely funny for adults, but not so arch or dry that kids wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. And while it does have the Wes Anderson formula right down to its DNA, it doesn’t look or feel like any of the other formulaic family movies being made today.

That said, the people who don’t like Wes Anderson movies are going to be squirming in their seats through this whole thing, finding it twee and self-satisfied and rambling with no real purpose.

I’ve never read the original story, so I can’t say how good an interpretation it was. (I’ve never read any of Roald Dahl’s works except for the Tales of the Unexpected stories). But I can say that it’s the best movie interpretation of a Roald Dahl story I’ve ever seen: more fantastic and less dismal than The Witches, more appealing than James and the Giant Peach, less Hollywood-formulaic than Matilda or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and less Tim Burtony than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’d even say I like it better than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, if only because Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn’t have any Anthony Newley songs.

If there’s a lesson or moral to the story, I missed it. (But then, it didn’t really need one). It has its moments that are roughly equivalent to The Royal Tennenbaums‘s “It’s been a rough year, Dad” and The Life Aquatic‘s “I wonder if it remembers me,” but the moments in Fantastic Mr. Fox don’t spin the whole movie into focus like those other scenes do. The closest I could find to a recurring theme is the idea that the characters are wild animals, and so they should stay true to their nature. That message is mentioned a few times, but it’s never really pounded home. Well, except for the existence of the movie itself, which is a prime example of Anderson staying true to his nature as a director.

3 thoughts on “Helveticus Indiefilmicus”

  1. In my best book nerd approximation: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is by Ian Fleming, not Roald Dahl. (…and yes, the same Ian Fleming best known for his spy thriller series.)

  2. …Of course, it is a small (British children’s novels) literary world and Wikipedia credits Roald Dahl with a hand on the screenplay, but the point stands that it is not an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s original work (merely an adaptation by him).

  3. You are correct; Dahl only wrote the screenplay. I remembered that the book was written by someone surprising, but forgot that it was Ian Fleming.

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