film 8 of 8

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

Wait—is this even a kids’ movie? Charlotte Huck, the pioneering American scholar of children’s literature, made a near-rule that to be of most benefit to their intended readers, kids’ books should have kid protagonists (Children’s Literature in the Elementary School, 1961, with many subsequent editions). That rule isn’t necessarily universal, and Roald Dahl might have been one of the writers that most particularly pushed against it. But Huck’s point still deserves consideration, as well as partial or even frequent implementation.

So is this even a kids’ movie? What is the child’s entrée here? The young viewers in my own family say it’s Ash, but I think that they’re being too accommodating. I slightly suspect a deeper motivation here. It’s in that glancing little wolf thing that happens near the end of the piece. Glancing, but so resonant! It might be the key to the whole exercise. I’m thinking about something Roberto Rossellini said about Chaplin, or that Jean-Luc Godard said about Jerry Lewis. I’m thinking this may be Andersen, saying the same thing about himself. Disapprove and make accusations if you wish, but at least I’m a free man!

If that’s what Mr. Andersen is saying here, and if he’s really talking about his own work then, it’s al pretty self-regarding! And probably more than a little narcissistic. Mind you, given the evidence the film provides, it’s also true.

What a remarkable filmmaker! The increasingly mannered (though always pretty) geometries of the live action films work perfectly here. Critics talked a lot about Dahl’s contribution to this film, and quite naturally. I’m noticing, perhaps suspecting a lesser known precursor. Has someone around here been reading William Péne du Bois’ nearly forgotten, quite astonishing The Alligator Case? Compare the diagrams and trajectories and such.  What’s unexpected and pleasing is how kinetic and wild this film turns, so frequently. That Heroes and Villains sequence! (“Old Man River”?!) Also, eating and digging.  Otherwise, lots of pleasing drollery, some fine voice turns, some good Andersonian family melancholy, and some pretty dire violent conflict. I guess that could all add up to a kids’ movie, if the kids and their parents all feel like it.