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Final Adaptation Paper-Fantastic Mr. Fox

July 11, 2011

Fantastic Mr. Fox

            When film makers are given the task to adapt a novel into a film, it is no small task.  In order to truly create a successful adaptation, the film must include similar plots and characters that capture the spirit intended by the author.   While many directors do an excellent job of creating box office hits, they often fail to duplicate the true spirit of the book they are adapting.   Instead they create a film that is full of political agendas, current popular culture themes, and personal motives.  They often fail to create a true literary adaptation and instead focus on creating a film that will draw in big audiences.  However, once in a while a real attempt is made to create a film that directly reflects the pages of the book.

            One director who has made such an attempt is Wes Anderson.  In the film Fantastic Mr. Fox, he attempts to recreate Roald Dahl’s story about a fox that outwit’s three of the meanest farmers around.  However, because Dahl’s novel is under a hundred pages, Anderson had to make some changes to the film.    “To fill out a feature-length movie, they’ve had to expand upon and embroider Dahl’s story, but they’ve done so without bloating the picture or overloading it.” Because Anderson “has a quirky, off-beat narrative and visual style in his films,” he was able to understand and duplicate the” quirky and off-beat style” of Dahl’s book.

            After reading the book and seeing the film version of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” I question whether or not a true literary adaptation is possible when creating a film from a novel.  Can the rich language of a book truly be transferred from paper to screen?  Can the viewer of a film truly understand a character without voice-overs?  Can an image on the screen truly capture the essence of the imagery that is created in a beautifully written piece of literature?   If anyone has made a great attempt at accomplishing this feat, it is Wes Anderson in his version of “Fantastic Mr. Fox.    “Through the expansion of the original narrative, Anderson amalgamates the story into modern thought, meticulously transfusing both Roald Dahl’s original message and his own artistic vision, proving once again that the auteur is still at the top of his game.”

            Now it is time to  take a moment to compare the novel and the film for similarities and differences.  First of all, in the book version of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the Fox family lives in a hole under a huge tree in the woods.  Mr. Fox is married and has four small children to care for.  Each evening when it turns dark, Mr. Fox turns his wife to say, “Well, my darling, what shall it be this time?  A plump chicken from Boggis?  A duck or a goose from Bunce?  Or a nice turkey from Bean?”  While aware of Boggis, Bunce, and Beans’s dislike for thieves, and the danger he faces if he’s caught, Mr. Fox dutifully heads out each night to find food for his family.  He heads out to the valley towards the farms that are owned by the meanest farmers around.  He is driven by his duty and need to care for and feed his family. 

In the film version, Mr. Fox is also a married man but one that is feeling bogged down by his responsibilities of being a husband and father.  Unlike the book, he only has one child instead of four and yet fatherhood seems to completely overwhelm him.  At the beginning of the film, Mrs. Fox tells her husband he is going to be a father.  Once he is aware of his new role, he promises to give up his life of crime and to make an honest living for his family.  However, after a time it is obvious he can no longer make good on his promise.  He tells his wife he wants to live above ground in a tree.  He says he is tired of working and never having the things he wants.  He moves his family to a tree house in the center of the wood that surround the Boggis, Bunce, and Beans farms even  when he is warned not to do so.  After he and his family are settled in their new home he begins sneaking out each evening to steal food for his family.  This time he is motivated by the need to steal rather than to provide for his family.  In doing so, he fails to think about how his actions will directly affect his family.  He is selfish and self-centered and his actions eventually bring about chaos to all the animals in the woods.  The changes made in the film are an attempt to create a more modern take on the film. “Anderson adds to the mix even further through a Darwinist delivery, categorically rallying the group of animals by their Latin names.  The director takes notice of his own contemporary interpretation, even giving one of the characters a credit card (possibly poking fun at his own American Express commercial.)”

            Another difference that should be noted between the book and the film is the overarching tone.  In the book, the farmers are upset when they realize Mr. Fox is stilling from their farms.  They devise a plan in which they will use tractor trailers to dig out Mr. Fox and his family.  They intend to not only catch Mr. Fox but to kill him and his family when they finally reach them.  After days of digging the farmers grow angry and weary.  Yet instead of quitting, they decide to taunt the fox with the smell of warm chicken.    After three days of digging their way further in the ground, the foxes begin to starve.  The young foxes want desperately to leave the hole so they can snatch the chicken out of the hands of the farmers.  They are told it is a trap and must resist any attempt to go above ground.  They cry “But we’re so hungry!  How long will it be till we get something to eat?”  While all the family begins to grow weary, Mrs. Fox grows the weakest and is soon unable to dig any further. It is at this desperate time we see Mr. Fox’s motivation and family obligation once again kick in. 

In the film version, Mr. Fox and his family, like the book, are being forced by the farmers to dig deeper underground.  While the time frame is similar to that in the book, the pacing is different and it does not seem that much time has passed as in the book.  Due to this pacing change, the tone does not appear to be as dire as it does in the book.  While the film, like the book shows hungry fox, a blend of humor and pacing make the situation a little less desperate.  My guess is Anderson made these changes in the film in order to make the film family friendly.  Additionally, the pacing in films will naturally be different than the pacing in a book.

In the film version, there are other changes Anderson has made.  One of the changes is in the Fox family size.  In the film, Mr. Fox has only one child instead of four.  Yet, he feels overwhelmed by his responsibility of being the bread winner.  While he struggles to come to terms with the end of his youth, his son has entered adolescence and is trying desperately to please his father.  He wants his father to think of him as athletic and to take notice of him.  He is reminded daily by his school coach about his father’s athletic abilities.   He is reminded that his father is one of the greatest athletes his school has ever known.  Unlike his father, Ash is awkward, clumsy, lacks self-confidence and has no single athletic bone in his body.  To add insult to injury, his cousin comes to stay with his family and is everything Ash is not; athletic and mild-mannered.   His father connects with his nephew Kristofferson in ways he does not with Ash.  This further creates tension between him and his father and becomes a back story in the film that is not in the book.   At the end of the film, Mr. Fox finally realizes the changes his son is going through.  He tells him son it is OK to be different and that he accepts him just the way he is.  In finally accepting his son, Ash is able to gain the confidence he desperately needs. “The main theme is the group coming to grips with what makes them unique.”

In looking at these differences, it is clear many liberties were made by Anderson to create a modern twist to a classic tale.  Does this mean it is not a true adaptation? Because books and film are two different media outlets, there is no such thing as a true adaptation.  The very natures of the words on the page that can never make it to the big screen make every book inadaptable.   However, even with the obvious differences, Anderson has done a remarkable job of adapting this tale into a film while sticking to Dahl’s original spirit.  While critics will always have a difference of opinion, many positive reviews have been written about this adaptation.  One reviewer hails the film as “the best movie about family, community and poultry thievery ever made.”  After viewing the film for the first time, Dahl’s widow exclaimed, “I could feel him smiling, I was thinking, he’d love this.” So, while there were obvious differences between the film and the book version, Anderson managed to remain true to Dahl’s story for children and to create a film for families.   

While many find Anderson’s version of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to be witty and clever, others would not agree.  One critic says “one prominent problem of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is its complete failure to pitch its inherently adult humor to the proper demographic.”  “For example, the literal use of the word “cuss” as a stand-in for any and all swearing in the dialogue betrays the innocence of a child, but what child will understand Fox’s referring to his dilemma as a “complete cluster cuss?” Even with this obvious flaw, Anderson has managed to create a great “film with the welcome addition of stop-motion animation and children’s themes.”

In closing, the film and book versions of “Fantastic Mr. Fox were enjoyable.  The book is quick moving with drama that leaves you at the edge of your seat.  Mr. Fox is likeable and the reader will be rooting for the Fox family and all of his friends.  While Dahl’s writing has a dark edge to it, his writing manages to create a world accessible to children everywhere.  Like the book, the film is full of quick moving drama that will leave you at the edge of you r seat.  While Mr. Fox has created this mess for his family one still can’t hope to see the little guy win in the end.  The film adds humor and human characteristics to the animals making them more relatable.  While the film is not animated as successful Pixar films are, his stop-motion animated approach is a big success.  “As a work of animation, and of art, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is wily, clever and mischievous, without ever being too arch or knowing. It also has the distinct aura of something that’s been made entirely by hand with care and affection — a few misshapen nubs here and there only add to the charm.”

Works Cited

“Fantastic Mr. Fox”: Better than Pixar (review)
Salon.com
Stephanie Zacharek
November 11, 2009
http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/review/2009/11/11/fantastic_mr_fox/index.html

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” More than lives up to its name (review)

Helium.com

Donald Lind

December 15, 2009

http://www.helium.com/items/1682340-fantastic-mr-fox

 “Outfoxed” (feature on Roald Dahl)
Slate.com
James Parker
November 24 2009
http://www.slate.com/id/2236156/

Wes Anderson’s fantastically foxy Roald Dahl adaptation

Michigan Daily.com

Timothy Rabb

November 25, 2009

https://www.michigandaily.com/content/fantastic-mr-fox

 Why Adaptations Still Work (When Done Properly): FANTASTIC MR. FOX(blog)

The Brattle Theater

William Benker

January 29, 2009

http://brattleblog.brattlefilm.org/?p=735

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2 Comments
  1. Faye, you make lots of interesting points here. You use your critical sources fairly well, except that you don’t cite any of them properly in the text. I had not idea who you were quoting. Another problem is that your thesis is vague and your argument subsequently not cohesive and a little confusing. Instead of a thesis you just generally consider whether Mr. Fox is a good adaptation, and even then you seem to contradict yourself: books are impossible to adapt and yet Anderson does it. 85 B. Joseph Byrne

  2. Note: I’m reposting this so that if you comment in reply I’ll be notified.

    Faye, you make lots of interesting points here. You use your critical sources fairly well, except that you don’t cite any of them properly in the text. I had not idea who you were quoting. Another problem is that your thesis is vague and your argument subsequently not cohesive and a little confusing. Instead of a thesis you just generally consider whether Mr. Fox is a good adaptation, and even then you seem to contradict yourself: books are impossible to adapt and yet Anderson does it. 85 B. Joseph Byrne

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