A Fox Comes to Terms with not-being a Fox
by Katelyn Liu
Fantastic Mr. Fox is the Wes Anderson stop-motion film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s original children’s novel, published in 1970. Anderson adapts Dahl’s original characters by giving each anthropomorphic animal a human-like day job and focuses on the strained relationship between Mr. Fox and his son, Ash. But the protagonist’s dilemma remains true through both variations: Mr. Fox steals food for his family from three farmers—Boggis, Bunce, and Bean—and must save the entire animal neighborhood when hunted. There seem to be some inconsistencies in the film representation, however: anthropomorphic opossums battling against rabid beagles and foxes that have phobia of wolves. In the words of Mr. Fox: “What the cuss does this all mean?” The delicate interactions of Mr. Fox and the food around him demonstrate a balance between the wild and the civilized.
Before his life of newspaper writing, Mr. Fox had a long history with thievery. Mr. Fox and his wife, Felicity, raided chicken coops and goose farms together until one uneasy heist left them trapped in a cage and Felicity delivering the news of her pregnancy. The deal was that if they survived, Mr. Fox would find a normal job without the life-threatening dangers of stealing food anymore. Years later, we find Mr. Fox unsatisfied with his barely-read column and angsty teenage son, Ash, who does not inherit the innate foxlike athletic abilities that Mr. Fox exhibited in his own youth. Seeing the three most dangerous farmhouses across the field, he cannot help but revert back to his old thieving ways just one last time. Here, we see inner dilemma within Mr. Fox between his wild fox instincts and the civilized nature of the world he belongs to. His comfortable desk job brings home food just like when he used to steal, except it doesn’t quite satisfy him. The intricacies of planning the entry and escape and killing a chicken with one bite are all essential pieces of the job that still fulfills the same function of putting food on the table. This dichotomy within one character is most hilariously demonstrated when Mr. Fox engages in his breakfast meal by devouring and tearing apart the inane humanness reflected in his common breakfast of toast and coffee (Figure 2).
Mr. Fox’s uncontrolled and unbridled wildness, however, puts the safety and security of the ones he loves at risk. Even after getting his tail shot off, he has no qualms going out into the night again. When the three fed-up farmers are tired of being stolen from, they parade the tractors in to uproot Mr. Fox’s tree home, forcing his family, along with the rest of the underground brood of badgers, moles, rabbits and others to burrow deep down for physical safety. His own safety does not pose a threat to his instinctual behavior to hunt, but the danger to his family and friends causes him to pause and consider the value and worth of his flagrant and unrestrained thievery.
Perhaps the most telling scene comes when Mr. Fox faces his phobia of wolves. Consistently throughout the film, the fearless Mr. Fox would declare, “I have a phobia of wolves.” After escaping the three farmers by riding off in a motorcycle, Mr. Fox stops when he sees a distant lone wolf. The interaction begins with fear but ends in awe. The wolf, faceless and seen standing on four legs opposed the anthropomorphic protagonist that stand on two, does not respond when Mr. Fox calls out to him. From a distance, Mr. Fox, at the conclusion of a one-sided conversation, raises his paw in respect to the wolf who raises one paw in response (Figure 3). At this moment, Mr. Fox releases his phobia of wolves, in recognition that the innate animalism in him has been traded for the intimacy of family in human-like connection. As the lone wolf disappears into the forest, family-less, Mr. Fox goes back to his new sewer home to enjoy a feast with his family and friends (Figure 1). The triumphant return of the successful escapees to an abundant banquet table is enjoyed in a family-like manner as they sit down to enjoy their meal together. In this last moment, Mr. Fox no longer seems to begrudge his cooked, utensil-requiring supper, but embraces the family and friends that surround his dinner table.
Fantastic Mr. Fox. Dir. Wes Anderson. By Roald Dahl. Perf. by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. 20th Century Fox. 2009.