1) Fantastic Mr. Fox is unlike other Roald Dahl adaptations not only because it is animated (something of a necessity since the main characters are animals) but because it stretches a short story into a feature length film and constructs certain themes that never appeared in the original book. James and the Giant Peach is another animated Dahl adaptation, mixing live-action and claymation as a way to emphasize the changes that the characters undergo after ingesting magic tongues – Mr. Fox is filmed in stop-motion with very hairy, anthropomorphic animal figures who undergo personal changes after running into some theft-related snafus. The former is magical and wondrous, the latter somewhat dry and lacking in charm. Mr. Fox is a character who, along with the rest of his family and friends, acts very human in the film, his personality easily relatable to anyone with a negligent father figure putting his job before his relationships – this type of protagonist is perhaps not ideal for a children’s movie, and neither is the muttered, monotone banter between Mr. Fox and his wife. The film’s humor is meant to be derived from the fact that these are animals living as humans do, going to school and playing sports, getting married and buying houses that just happen to be located beneath tree roots. This emphasis on the human side of the animal characters is seriously contradicted by the presence of actual humans who view the foxes and assorted woodland critters as regular animals. The addition of Cousin Kristofferson is meant to further the characterization of Mr. Fox as a father who is less than subtly disappointed with his own son, and the heist tones of certain scenes make Mr. Fox seem like an irresponsible thrill-seeker rather than a loving provider for his family. Some of Roald Dahl’s children’s books contain darker tones, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is not one of these – Wes Anderson seems to have chosen the wrong source material for the dysfunctional family formula.
2) These excerpts from Roald Dahl’s original story are useful in comparing the tone of the book to the tone of the film, and in noticing the great differences between them. Dahl’s prose is short and simple, clean and matter-of-fact but not childish or awkward despite the brevity of the story. The book opens with profiles of the three farmers and then introduces Mr. and Mrs. Fox as a happily married couple of… foxes, without delving much deeper into their life than that. The film gives the Foxes a history and introduces their family, expanding their circle of friends and neighbors much farther than the book does. Dahl’s Mr. Fox is endearing and uncomplicated, he and his fellow foxes much less human and trapped by human concerns.
3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN9VS2uwoJ0 Official featurette
The first link is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, bringing it into perspective as a major undertaking even as the spirit of the book is lost in the blockbuster elements of production.
4) How does Fantastic Mr. Fox compare/contrast with Alfonson Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in terms of the way it adapts a book for children into a film?
Prisoner of Azkaban is darker than the Harry Potter films that preceded it, but the book itself confronts adult themes such as death, great fear, and responsibility – Cuaron was justified, therefore, in setting a darker, perhaps more adult tone that kept the curiosity and mistakes of childhood. Fantastic Mr. Fox seems to be marketed not so much to young children as to teenagers and even adults who might be drawn in by the A-list actors lending their voices and the subtle humor that young children are likely to either miss or simply ignore in favor of waiting for something exciting to happen. PoA is also a significantly longer text that Cuaron had to condense into a film – conversely, Mr. Fox is a very short book that Anderson had to stretch into a film, and the themes that are typically associated with his work (negligent/screwy father figure, dysfunctional families, off-kilter characters who find themselves in humorous and unconventional mishaps) are not appropriate for a children’s book in the Roald Dahl tradition. Children are usually the main characters in Roald Dahl’s books, with several exceptions, and since “Fantastic Mr. Fox” differs from this set-up it is essential that an adaptation maintains the child’s perspective. Wes Anderson’s film fails to do this.