‘Why did you lie to me?’ ‘Because I’m a wild animal’; Anderson writing for all the family in ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ (2009)

Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson’s first animation feature as well as his first ‘family friendly’ film. Critics and fans alike were eager on it’s announced release in November 2009 to see how Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach (who also co-wrote The Life Aquatic) would tackle a script for children after previously basing their work  around what seem primarily adult concerns, as discussed in previous posts – depression, disillusionment and fragmented relationships. Also adapting Roald Dahl’s children’s novel rather than creating his own story line, fans of Anderson wondered how he would manage to maintain his trademark style within these boundaries.

Anderson manipulating the puppets for stop-motion

Anderson’s trademark visual style did not waver in choosing to animate the film over live action. Using stop-motion animation with puppets with fur and sewed ‘clothing’ kept the rough, imperfect charm typical of Anderson’s films. Anderson said he deliberately kept the ‘invisible wind effect’ on the puppets – i.e. the effect of the animator’s hands as they manipulate them, as it had an effect of making them seem primitive and handmade. He also felt this gave the puppets personality and energy which would be removed if the animation was smooth and perfect, and suited his style more. Anderson also said he wanted the colour palette to be ‘autumnal’, which fits with the 1970’s visuals of his previous work.

Anderson modeled Mr. Fox’s suit on his own

Anderson’s style flourished in a film aimed at children in discussing these subjects in terms of animal concerns. In this, Anderson and Baumbach were able to frame human issues within the animal’s lives, for example when Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) talks to opossum Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) about his personal identity, and of how could he ever be happy without ‘a chicken in (his) teeth?’. Children can take this conversation at face value  – i.e. a fox needing chicken – and still further their understanding of the characters, whereas older viewers can detect the deeper meaning of Mr. Fox’s worries. Older viewers can understand Mr. Fox’s animal nature as an exaggeration of this in human nature, where younger viewers are able to take this at face value without being left out of elements of the plot.

Mr. Fox and Kylie

An interesting point on adapting his work to be child-appropriate is how Anderson refuses to remove any bad language that he had written into the film, instead replacing cuss words with the word ‘cuss’ to make it more ‘family friendly’. This too would mean the film would appeal to older viewers as it detailed how adults actually talk, rather than pacifying conversation between the adult characters in an attempt to make it more appealing to children.

Appealing across generations makes the Fantastic Mr. Fox a more successful family film that children can watch and enjoy on different levels as they grow older, and also lets Anderson fit in his usual subject choices without ‘dumbing down’ or having scenes that just simply go over younger viewer’s heads. The basic story line of Dahl’s novel also remains, but there is an extra level of appeal to older viewers who can understand Mr. Fox’s stand against greedy farmers as him finally taking charge of his life and doing something of actual importance.

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