I went out to see Fantastic Mr. Fox last night, and I am happy to report that it is, in fact, fantastic. The animation is lively and unusual, and the script is full of grace notes and genuinely funny moments, but what really makes the movie work is the characters, who are voiced with such intelligence, compassion, and deadpan humor that I found myself truly caring about them and whether or not they would survive their adventures.
I loved Roald Dahl as a child, and I couldn’t count how many times I read and re-read The Witches, The BFG, and Dahl’s autobiography, Boy, among others—but somehow I never read Fantastic Mr. Fox. So I can’t comment on how faithfully the movie sticks to the story, but I can say with some certainty that it possesses one of the central qualities of Dahl’s work: imagination.
And imagination goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that the world is essentially a wild place. There’s real danger here, as in many of Dahl’s books, and the audience senses that, partly because the world of the movie is deceptively big. Though it all takes place in (and under) a very small town and the surrounding countryside, it feels expansive—there are tree homes, sewers, helicopters, broad fields, and a train going by in the distance—and the characters move through it with the ease and exploratory fervor of wild animals. Which, of course, they are, and the movie gets some mileage out of the tension between their wild natures (tearing out the throats of chickens) and their genteel demeanors (Mr. Fox’s fondness for making toasts).
If that tension seems more like director Wes Anderson’s preoccupation than Dahl’s, it’s certainly possible; Anderson has built his career on characters (particularly men) who are trying to understand their own natures and find their way in the world, and Fantastic Mr. Fox has plenty of these. But these personal quests never detract from Dahl’s story; in many ways, they drive the action and keep us invested in the outcome. (In that way, Fantastic Mr. Fox is similar to my favorite of Anderson’s films, Bottle Rocket, which also tells the story of a gang of inexperienced and essentially good-hearted people who band together under a charismatic leader to pull off a series of mild heists, more mischievous than malicious.)
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a thoroughly delightful movie, and one of my favorites from this year. Fans of Roald Dahl or Wes Anderson are in for a treat; fans of both are very, very lucky.