Fantastic Mr. Fox, The (2009)

Rated: PG for action, smoking and slang humor.
Length: 87 minutes
Grade: AB+CB=A-
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $48 million (21 U.S., 22 Intl., 5 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Wes Anderson (Darjeeling Limited, Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and Bottle Rocket), based on the novel by Roald Dahl (children’s books such as The Gremlins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The BFG, and George’s Marvelous Medicine.)
Starring the voices of: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Eric Chase Anderson.
With the voices of: Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem DaFoe, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson.

Mr. Fox used to steal chickens, but has now settled down with a wife and a regular job as a newspaperman. Unfortunately for everyone, he decides to buy a treehouse overlooking three farms with the intent to pull off one last master caper which endangers his family because he underestimates how nasty these three farmers really are.

Entertainment Value: A
I don’t really understand how this film did what it did. A guy who has only made truly odd movies managed to take a beloved children’s book by an incredibly successful author and turn it into a clever, entertaining, visually fascinating movie about human nature that both adults and children adore. Personally, I loved every moment of it, especially for the understated humor, but my concern was whether the boys would get enough of it to also enjoy it. They watched it pretty much every day for two weeks. So, yeah, apparently they did. I was very sad to see how poorly it did at the box office only because that means lots of people and kids have missed out on this gem.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A*
One of the farmers makes and drinks hard cider, which is mentioned several times and there is some wine drinking and cigarette smoking. There are some scenes of fighting and several scenes with explosives and gunfire aimed at animals. Stealing seems to be promoted as an acceptable practice which, although comes with risks, does not end up costing the thieves fully. The asterisk on the language is because one of the running gags of the whole movie is that although it uses no swear words at all, it uses swearing phrases where the word “cuss” replaces the actual “cuss word.” So, they say, “What the cuss?” and “Are you cussing me?” and similar sentences. I found this delightful (and meaningful, as I’ll get to soon), but I can see how some parents might find this bothersome. Also, I found it very odd that two adult movies were promoted in the previews: Whip It and Date Night.

Significant Content: C
Every creature has a basic nature, and although you might temporarily suppress it, that nature will eventually rear up in undesirable ways. You just can’t really civilize wild animals not matter how many gimmicks you try, and men in particular are wild animals. Stealing is dangerous but not so bad if you’re good at it.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Okay, it would be unfair to claim that this was primarily a big, deep art movie. Nevertheless, it has to get high marks for being the coolest stop-motion animation movie I’ve ever seen. But the thing that I didn’t expect was that after having seen or over-seen (while doing other things my kids were watching it) this movie about 7-8 times, I finally got it. Perhaps I’m just slow, but I never realized that the movie wasn’t about animals at all but about people, human nature, and tragic flaws. Although the foxes in this movie are at least trying to be like humans, the humans are behaving like animals. And whereas animals make choices, the humans seem unable to even realize they have alternatives to revenge. Of course, the veneer of civilization for the animals is consistently portrayed as shallow (cussing with non-cuss words, working at a newspaper rather than thieving chickens, and preparing food on plates which is then eaten wildly). This means that the difference between good people and bad people is still pretty thin, which is a pretty depressing commentary on human nature. However, the Bible agrees that we either are savages or else savages under restraint, except for those few born again who can be truly delivered from their barbarism (not a point mentioned in the movie, of course).

Discussion Questions:
~What indicators of savage nature just barely covered over with civility does this movie use?
~What is Mr. Fox’s tragic flaw? Why does he fail to keep his promise to his wife? Who was more na├»ve about Mr. Fox’s savage nature: him in thinking he could keep his promise to reform or his wife for thinking so?
~Is this movie trying to say that all men are savages who cannot really be reformed even by a powerful institution like marriage? What did Mr. Fox think he needed to have to be happy? What if Mr. Fox had heard the Gospel?
~Why does Ash have such trouble with Kristofferson? Is Kristofferson really his problem, or does Kristofferson only force him to confront his own identity struggles? What happens when his strategy for self-esteem encounters challenges from someone better than we are? What did Ash think he needed to have in order to be happy? Have you ever had a negative reaction to someone who you thought made you look bad by being really good at something? How did Mr. Fox contribute to this problem? What can parents do to make their children feel secure in their identity without needing to perform to earn their approval?
~What is it about swearing that’s problematic? If the specific words used are not forbidden, are expressions like the ones in this movie acceptable or not?
Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Mr. Fox discussing his own nature with the opossum atop his tree.
~The end scene with the wolf. What do you make of Mr. Fox’s relationship with wolves?
~Mr. Fox’s decision to buy the tree house.
~The ongoing compulsion by the farmers to get Mr. Fox.
Overall Grade: A-
A brilliant stop-motion, film noir allegory made in the style of a classic Western with the occasional Billy Jack reference and an almost Napoleon Dynamite tone that adults and kids alike will love. An unheard of 93% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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