The Auteur Series: Wes Anderson

Cover of "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Cover of The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Because of all the buzz about Wes Anderson in recent months (due to his exceptionally well-received film Moonrise Kingdom), I think it is high time for a retrospective look at his adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s Fantastic Mr. Fox – a film that, prior to Moonrise Kingdom, was second only to Anderson’s Rushmore in terms of critical acclaim.

Fantastic Mr. Fox works on so many levels. First, it stays faithful in spirit to Dahl’s simple story of a wily and well-spoken fox outwitting three wicked farmers. The humor is dry. The animals are imbued with far more humanity than the humans. Family, community, and resourcefulness triumph.

And yet Wes Anderson has at the same time shaped Dahl’s story into something wholly his own. Building on the infrastructure of Dahl’s story, Anderson adds his own beginning and ending, fleshes out the characters, adds new ones, and infuses the whole romp with myriad minute details in signature Anderson fashion. While still keeping much of the dialogue and action the same, Anderson suffuses the story with the themes his fans have come to expect: awkward family relationships (often rife with rivalries), strained marriages, estranged fathers, precocious children, and childlike adults. And it goes without saying that Anderson manages to infuse into each beautifully stop-motion animated scene his characteristic framing, pacing, music, and warm colors and textures.

While full of enough colorful detail, hilarious animal capers, and thrilling close escapes to keep kids engrossed, Fantastic Mr. Fox has just as much (perhaps more) to offer to the adult viewer. This is a remarkable children’s adaptation in that, instead of the usual stripping down and padding up with fart jokes and fluffy action that most children’s adaptations undergo, Anderson’s adaptation instead  builds upon and gives endless new layers of enjoyment to Dahl’s story, but in a way that still feels warm and true to the classic book.

Anderson’s films are well-known – and often mocked by his detractors – for their recurrent themes, actors, and indie stylings. Yet his two most recent films – Fantastic Mr. Fox and now Moonrise Kingdom – seem to show that Anderson does best when he returns to the terrain of one of his earliest, and still most critically acclaimed, films: Rushmore. Wes Anderson knows how to capture a child’s story, whether it be in the form of a beloved children’s classic, or an awkward and reminiscent coming of age story.

It is almost as if he is coming into his own.

I had originally planned on posting my own review of Wes Anderson‘s recently released tribute to childhood, Moonrise Kingdom, but upon reading Brett McCracken’s own lucidly expressed thoughts on the film, I quickly lost this resolve.

The Search

A few hours before I watched Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, I was watching the undergraduate commencement ceremony at Biola University. It made me nostalgic to see 670 seniors receive their diplomas and officially conclude a long chapter in their journeys. I remember being there myself, seven years ago at Wheaton College, “commencing” a pivotal new chapter as my 22 years of being a kid gave way to the new adventure of independent adulthood. What a memorable moment, graduation day–abuzz as it was with the teetering uncertainty of the liminal spaces which were its backdrop: between youth, inexperience and protection on one hand and adulthood, maturity and risk on the other. Everything then was new, curious, possible. The world was there to be explored; adulthood to be experimented with.

Moonrise Kingdom dwells in a similar liminal space: between the innocence, wonder and “firsts” of childhood on one hand and the…

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