Adaptation Paper

Fantastic Mr. Fox Adaptation Paper

The Book

roald dahl

Integral to understanding the styling’s of Roald Dahl you must understand the man. Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff Wales to Norwegian parents. Life was not kind to Dahl, when he was three years old his sister and father died within weeks of each other. His sister died of appendicitis and his father from pneumonia while out on a fishing trip. Dahl had a miserable experience in Catholic school while growing up, Dahl wrote in his autobiography that his experiences in school led him to have resentful feelings and doubt towards the ideas of religion and god.  Dahl was not a happy go lucky personality already, and then in 1939 joined the Royal Air Force. Among his experiences in WWII Dahl had near death experiences that he later writes about.

The point being here the Dahl is not the typical candidate to write children’s stories like Fantastic Mr. Fox. Writing children’s stories was also not Roald’s first venture into writing. Dahl spent the early part of his career righting Macabre and adult stories. Where Dahl made the switch to children’s novels in the later part of his career, he was never able to shed the influences that his life had on his writing. The aspects of his life that made him a hardened and cynical individual.

Phillip French of the Observer makes the point

The precision, brevity and clarity of Roald Dahl’s literary style probably derived from the way you learn to give orders, keep logs, write situation reports and contribute to debriefings as an officer in the armed forces. His realism, lack of sentimentality, distrust of the adult world and streak of cruelty came from experiencing childhood, the class system and public schools from an alien perspective (a boy of Norwegian parents observing British institutions), followed by Second World War service as an RAF fighter pilot and subsequent intelligence work in Washington.  

Dahl’s children’s stories tend to shame the adult life and make the adult characters out to be baboons. The message received more often than not is one of a cautionary tale; to avoid becoming like the average adult. Charlie and the Chocolate factory has the bizarre characteristics associated with a typical Dahl story. Characters in the book all have their own vices, facilitated by their parents. Individually this leads to their doom in one way or another. There is not much friendly about Dahl’s stories on the surface, often the hard truths are delivered, he isn’t one for sugar coating a message.

In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the farmers are the enemies, plain and simple. The opening paragraph of the book puts it in perspective.

Down in the valley there were three farms.
The owners of these farms had done well.
They were rich men.
They were also nasty men.

It’s important to the story that the farmers were rich men. There is a pseudo socialist message being provided by the depiction of the farmers. They have all the best technology, their farm is extremely prosperous, yet they will not share any of the yield with Fox’s family and his friends. Fox is forced to steal from these men just to feed his family. At the one point where Fox and his community is trapped underground and being starve out by the farmers, Fox goes into Robin Hood mode and steals from the greedy farmers to feed the starving community. The book ends with the stupid farmers above land, in the rain, with their guns pointed at the hole, waiting for Fox to appear again. The farmers have excess but their pride won’t let them forgive fox for outsmarting them. The story lacks a magical element and just paints the humans as dumb, prideful, and greedy – this is just Dahl’s brand of a children’s story.


The Movie

Wes Anderson is an indie film auteur. He has written and directed each one of his releases, all of which have a distinct style that instantly jump out at the viewer, informing them that they are watching a Wes Anderson movie. The ‘style’ most of the time can be described as quirky or offbeat, but there is truly a lot more to what makes a Wes Anderson movie unique. Aesthetically there is intentional color pallets that Anderson selects for each of his films. Usually he has a large say in the wardrobe, casting and setting of all his films. Controlling nearly every aspect of a movie is by definition what makes an auteur. “Auteur – A filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie.” This definition then raises the awareness that although Fantastic Mr. Fox is an adaptation, the level of care that went into developing this movie makes it a standalone piece of art separate from the book.

That is not to say Anderson did not have a strong foundation to build off of.  Mark Browning, the writer of “Wes Anderson: Why his movies matter” has this to say about Fantastic Mr Fox as a subject for a Anderson adaptation.

Fantastic Mr. Fox provides Anderson with elements ideal for his filmmaking aesthetic: a fictional world entirely at his disposal, which he and control to a greater extent than any of his previous work, and the possibility to indulge fully his penchant for characters who are quirky yet engaging demands a repeat viewing.

Wes Anderson’s choice to adapt this using stop motion animation gave him several advantages. One being that the film would not have to directly live up the illustrations by Donald Chaffing but rather reimagine the work in his own way. The original illustrations are a bit crude, but in an intentional way. The pictures were not meant to be clean and colored inside the lines, it gives a bit of the feeling that a child illustrated the story himself. The movie also captures this feeling. The stop motion is intentionally done poorly and choppy, to give the effect of being crude and having the look that a child playing with dolls would have. Other advantages which come with the stop motion animation is the avoidance of being lumped into the CGI/cartoon pool or movies that an artist like Wes Anderson no doubt would like to avoid. Finally Anderson gets a chance to craft sets for the film that he can deal with by hand instead of looking over the shoulder of some editor making a CGI film. The experience gets more ‘hands on’ which am sure Anderson enjoyed.

Stephanie Zacharek:

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.


The Adaptation

Apparently Wes Anderson had been aching to adapt this story for most of his career. He claims that Fantastic Mr. Fox was the first book he ever owned, so the ties to the book and the motivation to make it a movie was very strong.

In the movie Wes Anderson goes through much effort to retain the mark of Roald Dahl and Dolan Tariff in both the illustrations and writing. The themes Dahl deals with of the struggle between the over consumption of the farmers and their unnatural ways with Fox’s more natural animalistic approach. There is commentary on the resistance of animalistic urges for more civilized means. Wes Anderson preserves this sentiment, but actually develops over top of it. Brings it up to 2009 if you will. Anderson chooses to develop the story line of Fox making an effort to change his ways and resist doing what he was made to do as a fox. Instead of the story ending with the animals underground feasting on stolen farmer’s goods, they now live underground and shoplift from grocery stores that the farmers supply. This is a great example of how you can change an ending of a story or add onto it without taking away from intention of the author. Fox still ends up sticking it to the farmers in the end, but he has reeled in his crazy fox antics this time. Whether it be by choice or just a sign of the times Adrienne Kreutzer has this to say about the updated ending.

The distance between the world of the lone wolf and the grocery store that is the only option remaining in Mr. Fox’s arsenal of trickery. This is not exactly happily ever after, but the American dream circa 2009

Certain parts of the Adaptation do take some liberty in the direction into some territory that Dahl maybe did not intend. Anderson seems to have an affinity for father son stories and in the film adaptation he consolidates all of Fox’s children into just one son. Anderson claims in an interview with collider magazine that part of the decision was to just aid in the telling of the story in movie format, but also in general

Wes Anderson says of this change

In the book, they don’t really have individual identities, his children, and we made a story of his son, his visiting cousin. That was partly, I guess we just felt like for a movie it was better, rather than having this whole group to just focus on one personality and to develop a story for him.
This whole storyline is a typical element from Wes Anderson Films, the dysfunctional family with an estranged father, and adopted son type scenario (I’m thinking Ned Plimpton from Life Aquatic and Eli Cash from Royal Tenenbaums).  Bringing in Kristofferson as a character is a whole storyline that Dahl would have never incorporated, but it worked for the film, and it did so without stomping on any of the other storylines from the book. So Andersons touch does end up in the movie via his enhancements of certain elements of the book as well as constructions done on his own.

In the end Dahl wrote children’s stories that could not seem to escape the cynicism that he packed on through his life experiences. In the adaptation, Wes Anderson captured these quirks by studying Dahl as a man and internalizing the message behind his work. But Wes Anderson also seems to have trouble shedding his own quirks, as evidenced by things like the dysfunctional family themes that he ends up weaving into the films he makes. The product of this marriage is a movie that preserves Dahl’s voice as a writer and adds Wes Andersons hand as a filmmaker.


Works Cited:

1. Dahl, Roald (1984). Boy: Tales of Childhood. Puffin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-130305-5.

2.  – Paranoid convervative

3 .Adrienne Kertzer –“ Fidelity, Felicity, and Playing Around in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox” Childrens Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 36, (Spring 2011)

4.Wes Anderson: Why his movies matter – Mark Browning

5. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (review) -The Observer (The Guardian) -Philip French -October 25 2009

6.Steve Weintraub – Wes Anderson interview (2009) – Collider  



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