Font to Film: "Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Typically when a book is adapted for the screen the general tone and thematic content remain the same, even if specific events or characters are shuffled around. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a rare exception to this rule. Originally a children’s book written in 1970 by Roald Dahl, it was adapted to film by Wes Anderson nearly forty years later—and anyone who is familiar with Anderson’s other works will be unsurprised with how his version turned out.

Roald Dahl’s story is fairly straightforward: Mr. Fox makes his living by stealing chickens and other delicacies from three local farmers who despise him as a result. The farmers begin to hunt Mr. Fox, who must use his fantastic wit to protect his family and the other inhabitants of the forest. Bearing in mind that this is a book for children, there are still a couple of pretty strong themes present which merit some discussion. For instance, while Dahl’s farmers are presented as disgusting, vindictive men clearly destined to be the antagonists of any narrative, the fact remains that Mr. Fox is, at the end of the day, a thief. Concerns over whether glorifying such a lifestyle is appropriate for a young audience tend to be dismissed on the grounds that stealing is not, in fact, all that bad if it is a.) done to feed one’s family and b.) the victims are bad people. But Fantastic Mr. Fox is also a book about obsession, specifically on the part of the farmers, whose actions not only drive the plot but solidify their position as corrupt—or at least corruptible—characters. From a child’s perspective, it’s easy to see that they are villains, and to believe that villains deserve to be bested by heroes as clever and capable as Mr. Fox.
It should be mentioned right off the bat that Wes Anderson’s version of Fantastic Mr. Fox expands the narrative substantially, taking a children’s book of under a hundred pages and turning it into a fairly intricate and frantically-paced comedy. A simple example of this expansion is the portrayal of Mr. Fox—voiced by George Clooney—as a far more complex character, one who struggles to support his family while wrestling with an overblown sense of pride. Anderson interprets the book’s title ironically; Mr. Fox is less fantastic than flawed, leaving room for a significant transformation that simply wasn’t present in Dahl’s version. The supporting characters are fleshed out as well; Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) is no longer one-dimensionally unwavering in her devotion to her husband, and the four fox children are replaced by one brooding son and a curiously-enlightened nephew. Overall, the plot is the same: Mr. Fox makes his living stealing from three farmers who make it their mission to eradicate him and his family from their property. However, the addition of several new scenes and a more fleshed-out cast allows for the exploration of a few additional themes, such as coming to terms with one’s nature and intrinsic value while trying to develop a place in the world relative to those around you—be they friend or foe. 

Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library as part of the second-floor juvenile fiction collection. Wes Anderson’s film version is available at several branches of the Ventura County Library; if the book or DVD is not on the shelf at your local branch, you can request for it to be delivered to the branch of your choosing in person, over the phone, or online through our catalog.

 

Released into the wild by Ronald Martin.