Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animation version of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic Fantastic Mr Fox is stuffed full of the clever, quirky verbal and visual details and gags one has come to expect from the director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Yet to my mind, this cleverness and quirkiness don’t fit Dahl’s tale of a cunning fox outwitting a trio of local farmers – notwithstanding the care Anderson took to model the film’s locations on places in and around Dahl’s home in Great Missenden.
Undercutting this fidelity, the dashing Mr Fox (voiced by a characteristically suave George Clooney) and his family have been turned into an all-American family (his son, voiced by Jason Schwartzman, even attends what appears to be a US high school plonked in the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside).
Indeed, all the animals – the story’s heroic, quick-witted good guys – are American, while the bad guys – the grasping, trigger-happy farmers (headed by Michael Gambon’s mean Mr Bean) – are all English.
So far, so typical of Hollywood. But Anderson also wants to turn his fox family into another version of the dysfunctional families that regularly pop up in his work – most recently in the squabbling siblings of The Darjeeling Limited. And this is where his adaptation really rubs against the grain of the original.
The film’s mix of faux naivety and real sophistication does have its charm and many viewers have been won over, including those who have nominated Fantastic Mr Fox for a Best Animated Film Oscar. Compared with the warmth and heart of fellow Academy Award nominee Up, however, Anderson’s movie seems smug and self-indulgent.
Released on 1st March.