The works of Roald Dahl have been adapted in many forms from his original books and poems. From live action films, theatre productions, animations and even television shows. In the many adaptations Dahl’s unusual characters and quirky mode of storytelling has lent itself so brilliantly to stop-motion animation on more than one occasion. First in Henry Selick’s mixed live-action tale James and the Giant Peach. Next auteur director Wes Anderson made an entire stop-motion features based on Dahl’s classic Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The narrative centres on Mr Fox, (George Clooney) and his family as he dreams of a more lavish life. He moves his wife, (Meryl Streep) and son to a new house overlooking three notoriously mean farmers. Despite his pledge to give up bird stealing, he takes from each of the farmers. His scheming is realised by the farmers whose evasive action drives Mr Fox and his family underground.
Directed by Wes Anderson, the film marks his first time directing an animated feature film. Although the film is based on Dahl’s story, Anderson has made minor alterations in character and plot. Like the book the film has a great concept. The cunning and charismatic Mr Fox is pitted against the three dim-witted but mean farmers. The central role is filled by a misguided hero who tries to do good but ultimately fails.
The film, like much of Dahl’s back catalogue, works on two levels. On the one hand you have the cute animals anthropomorphized and a great battle aspect between animals and farmers. Yet the quirkiness and misguided nature of the characters lends itself to a much more adult method of storytelling.
The film is accomplished in terms of visuals and storytelling but the issue many will face with this and indeed Anderson’s work, is tone. His film lacks pace and momentum giving it a monotone vibe. For fans Anderson this is much of the same yet those not used to his unique style will find his characters difficult to connect with.
One thing regarding the film that cannot be faulted is its brilliant animation. The characters display a great range of expression and emotion making them come to life. The detail that has gone into creating the lush landscapes of the films is so well done. In terms of stop-motion, Anderson has opted for a more classic look and movement style. It is more static and edgy, but works well with the subject matter.
Mr Fox and his wife Felicity are voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. Both bring their distinctive voices, acting prowess and star power to the project. A major criticism of the film on release was that although based on a British classic the leads are played by Americans and the bad guys voiced by regional British actors. Although this is a cliché that audiences have become all too accustomed to in American produced films, it is rather distracting here. Still, Clooney lends his charisma to Mr Fox while Streep gives Mrs Fox a matriarchal edge.
A strong adaptation with accomplished animation done by director Wes Anderson. His visual style is hard not to admire, yet the film’s lack of pace will turn away many viewers. Based on enthralling source material, this take on the classic will not convert those not open to Anderson narrative take. Yet to fans of his work this is a strong piece and something Dahl could approved of.
Happy Roald Dahl Day!