Shiny Shelf

The Fantastic Mr Fox

By Mark Clapham on 09 November 2009

Wes Anderson is probably my favourite living, working film director, but he’s not exactly a chameleon. It may be Roald Dahl’s story, and it may be shot in stop-motion animation rather than live-action, but ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’ is as much ‘a Wes Anderson film’ as ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ or ‘The Royal Tennenbaums’.

This is a good thing. Classic children’s books usually take place in self-contained little worlds governed by their own unique rules, just like Anderson’s films. The world of ‘Mr Fox’ is an idealised but modern rural England with idyllic countryside, industrial farms, and little Eurostars zipping past in the background. From a squirrel removal firm to the usual eclectic Anderson soundtrack (including ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’, the Stones, the Beach Boys, and a new pseudo-folk song by Jarvis Cocker), every detail adds to a charming, unique whole. Oh, and listen out for a very specific sound-effect, re-used perfectly.

One underrated quality of Anderson’s films is that the characterisation is often as ornate as the visuals, and each speaking part here is a memorable turn. Mr Fox is pretty much the perfect Anderson protagonist – cocky, flawed, idiosyncratic. His inability to play it safe causes chaos for his family and friends, but he’s resolutely likeable and good-hearted. George Clooney is, of course, the perfect voice for a talking fox, and Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman are equally spot on as his wife and son. It’s a great voice cast all round, with Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe as animals, and Michael Gambon channeling Peter Cook as the ringleader of the malevolent farmers.

A big part of the appeal of Dahl’s books, especially to kids, is the streak of cruelty that runs through them, and Anderson doesn’t shy away from that. Mr Fox kills chickens, and the farmers make every effort to kill him in return, while there’s a great running gag about the foxes’ feral eating habits. Things get scary, things get bleak, but there’s a lot of laughs in there as well – this combination of constant threat and humour gives the movie a momentum that sets it apart from a lot of Anderson’s other films, and perhaps shows that, for all it may have in common with his ‘adult’ movies, he is tailoring ‘Mr Fox’ for kids.

For all it’s eccentric Andersonisms and flashes of Dahlesque bleakness, there’s always a warmth at the heart of ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’, a charm that never threatens to tip over into saccharine – like Mr Fox himself, it’s a film that’s fuzzy but never toothless.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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