Submitted by Kieran Webb on 6 April 2021 - 8:43pm
I, like many others, am eagerly awaiting the release of Wes Anderson’s latest film – The French Dispatch. Originally scheduled to release in 2020 (we all know how that went), The French Dispatch follows the story of a fictional magazine of the same name – inspired by Anderson’s love of The New Yorker.
Set in a fictional French city during the late 1960s, Anderson’s new film will feature storylines focussing on the freedom of the press and the role of journalists in the real world – including during the 1968 student revolutionaries in France.
It promises an impressive cast, featuring newcomer Timothée Chalamet, and recurring Anderson stars: Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe and Edward Norton, among others.
With no certain release date (other than rumours of a Cannes Film Festival debut), I decided to revisit one of Anderson’s most impressive and overlooked films to date – Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Directing an adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic and putting your own signature spin on it whilst also remaining truthful to the source material is no easy feat, yet Fantastic Mr. Fox is - for lack of a better word – fantastic.
My fair warning to those who have yet to watch this film or read the original novel (it IS fifty years old) – there will be spoilers from this point on.
What seems to be the case for many adaptations is that the source material is often disregarded, but the opening makes one thing very clear – the book matters. The opening shot is of orange filtered fabric with golden words across the screen saying:
“BOGGIS AND BUNCE AND BEAN
A line taken straight from Dahl’s pages and is backdropped with the sound of The Ballad of Davy Crockett, potentially reflecting that in his prime as a chicken thief, Mr. Fox feels like the ‘King of the Wild Frontier’.
George Clooney plays Roald Dahl’s crafty and ambitious Mr. Fox, a stand in for a middle-class worker drone (clip-on tie and all) going through a mid-life crisis. No longer a thief, Mr. Fox is now a husband, father, and unfulfilled journalist. He can’t help but slip into his old ways and undertakes the largest food heist the animal world has ever seen.
The screenplay and performances are so richly executed - all the animals feel like real people. This feeds perfectly into the overarching themes of the film – the modernisation of the world, and the domestication of animals versus their instinctive wild nature. Mr. Fox says “I don’t want to live in a hole anymore. It makes me feel poor.”
This marks Fox’s ambitious nature throughout the entire film, always trying to further his station in life. For better or worse, Mr. Fox’s realisation as shown in his speech at the end of the film, is that animals belong in holes. But that is ok. He realises that he isn’t the young fox he used to be, and the things that sustain his life may seem like pale imitations of what they once were, but as long as he’s with the people he loves – does anything else matter?
There is one scene that stands out from this viewpoint: when Mr. Fox meets a wolf. The wolf is a symbol of nature at its wildest in a frozen wood, a direct contrast to Mr. Fox riding a motorcycle and wrapped in the warmly toned colour. Its in this moment you feel that everything Mr. Fox wants to be melts away as he confronts the ideology behind the wolf, representing what Mr. Fox could never be and indeed something he never really was – purely wild. What unifies both figures is the symbol of a hand (or rather, paw) raised high, paying homage to the 1972 film Jeremiah Johnson.
Anderson’s style of filmmaking constantly draws your attention to the fact that you’re watching a film, constantly flaunting a charming range of camera movements, perfectly framed shots and gorgeous, vibrantly coloured mise en scene – but the most rewarding of all is his attention to detail.
The pages of the newspaper Mr. Fox reads (aside from the burglar mask ad) are actually pages from Roald Dahl’s book. The delivery and storage workers that help Mr. Fox’s family move into their new tree home are squirrels, because… of course they are. The warm and glowing lighting in Bean’s cider cellar is entirely placed behind the bottles to give the impression it is like “liquid gold”.
Small details like this go such a long way in building the world of the film, something that is even more appreciated when considering the stop motion animation of the film and the care that goes in to making each shot rich with detail. Rather than shooting in the more fluid twenty-four, Anderson chose to shoot at a frame rate of twelve frames per second so that viewers would be more visually aware of the stop-motion medium being used.
I could go on and on about the wonders of this film (and Wes Anderson) from its brilliant score and use of soundtrack to the composition and the difficulties in making a tracking shot in stop-motion but the best way to understand the charm of Fantastic Mr. Fox is to watch it yourself. One that is enjoyable for the whole family – Fantastic Mr. Fox is a humorous and whimsical experience that reflects the joys of cinema as art.
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