Stories about Stories

Fantastic Mr. Fox

November 29th, 2009 · No Comments

It was fantastic, of course (so go and see it). What’s really interesting about this film is how much of a clash there is between the tone of the original author (Roald Dahl) and the adapter (Wes Anderson), and yet the adaptation still works beautifully.

Dahl’s work always has a particularly ironic but unrepentant zing to it (example: the woman who kills her husband with a frozen chicken leg, then serves it to the policeman who comes investigating). Though that zing is potent in his early work for adults, nowhere is it more noticeable (if only by contrast) than in his later work for children. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for instance, is greatly enriched by the obvious glee that Dahl takes in torturing the adults and bad children alike. All in all Dahl usually comes off as the slightly odd old uncle who tells dirty (but true) stories to the kids while the other ‘adults’ are out of earshot.

Anderson, in contrast, is forthright and plain-spoken in a very wide-eyed Midwestern way. It may be an affectation, but he does not use it ironically – he uses it to tell a story more profound and satisfying for the very plainness of its telling.

So while Dahl (in this context) is a faux adult telling children’s stories, Anderson is a faux child telling adult stories. Yet somehow this film adaptation still works – probably because Anderson makes the project his own as much as he can.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a Wes Anderson film that covers over Dahl’s rough and ready craziness – except for where it peers out through the cracks in the corners. And maybe those corners is where Dahl most safely belongs . . . assuming, of course, that we don’t get to close to them.

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