Saturday, August 29, 2009

THE CUSSING ADEQUATE GUIDE TO FANTASTIC MR. FOX


Clearly I can't speak for everyone, but ever since I read in an interview that Wes Anderson was interested in adapting Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was in the edge of whatever seat I'd be sitting on at the given moment entertaining the possibility. I mean, the guy who brought us our favorite misguided pole vaulting yellow jumpsuit wearing landscaping crooks, Max Fischer, The Tenenbaums, Team Zissou, and the only way to ever get lost on a train is now making a film starring a bunch of foxes and badgers. Which, in all sincerity is the only reasonable way to follow up.

Now that the trailer is out and the information flood gates have presumably been opened, I thought it would be fun to put up a primer per se for Roald Dahl's original story, to get those unfamiliar with the book's story and characters. It's also an excuse to toss off some of my thoughts on the upcoming film. Though, honestly, one could be spending that time actually reading the darn thing, it's less than a hundred pages and could probably be read in an evening....buuuut, if anything you can read this and eventually see how Wes Anderson will manipulate the source material.

Here's the overall premise:

The book Fantastic Mr. Fox is a funny, hectic, and claustrophobic tale of the quarrels between Mr. Fox, and the farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Their conflict stems from Mr. Fox's routine stealing of the farmers' food supply to feed his family. This provokes the farmers to make it their goal to put and end to his life by any means necessary. To them, this means firearms and digging equipment. This forces the foxes into hiding, having to dig deeper and deeper to avoid the Farmer's escalating measures. Then something uh, fantastical happens.

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Mr. Fox - Sly guy, father of four, and married to Mrs. Fox. Creeps down the valley every night andsnatches whatever suits her wife's appetite from any of the three given farmers. Persistent and always has a plan. Supposedly has the bestest tail, for miles around, even.

Mrs. Fox - Mr. Fox's loving, concerned wife. Has a habit of calling him 'Fantastic'.

Farmer Boggis - Enormously fat chicken farmer. Always smells like chicken skins.

Farmer Bunce - An angry Pot Bellied Dwarf that farms ducks and gooses. Eats doughnuts and goose-livers at the same time. Always smells like goose livers.

Farmer Bean - Bean is a lean turkey and apple farmer that has an exclusive diet of strong apple cider. Hence the strong smell. The most clever of the three.

The Smallest Fox - Accompanies his father during the heist.

Badger - Friend of Mr. Fox, assists during the heist against the Farmers. Tends to be doubtful.

Rat - Angry bugger that lives in Farmer Bean's wine supply. Tries to scare off Fox and Co. Suitably a drunk.

Mabel - Fat servant of Farmer Bean, who goes down to his cellar for a jug of cider just as Fox. and co try to sneak in. Wants to own Mr. Fox's tail.

The badgers, weasels, and rabbits - Miscellanious characters in distress. Diggers. The Rabbits are vegetarian.

It should be mentioned that the secret to Mr. Fox's success is his keen sense of smell. With the wind blowing against his face he could detect any one of the farmer's distinct odors from a large distance, thus avoiding being caught in the act. When the farmers decide to take action, they wait outside of the foxhole, knowingly hiding where the wind does not carry their scent into the hole. It is in this night that Mr. Fox, while as cautious as ever, gets his comeuppance and gets his tail blown off in the process. A real tragedy. He escapes back into the hole, trying to recover from his wound with Mrs. Fox when suddenly they notice the Farmers digging out their hole with shovels. Hours goes by, night turns into day, and now the Farmers are trying to dig them out with tractors, digging out the entire hill in the process. (and the other animals' habitats) By nightfall the foxes are tired, and the tractors are turned off. They decide to spent the rest of the time waiting, assuming the foxes are just below. And they were.

After spending days at a gun barrel's length from death, the tired, hungry, beaten Foxes attempt a (literal) ditch effort to dig a hole far enough away from the Farmers. What awaits underground is a lot more than they bargained for.

Willem Dafoe.

Anyhoo, that should give you a general idea of what the story is and what the characters do. The bulk of the book takes place underground, where the resolution takes place. Honestly, read the book if you haven't. It's funny, dark, not that long, and Martin Jarvis can read it for you if you're too lazy to do it yourself.

BONUS QUESTIONS AND OBSERVATIONS:

1) What happened with Mark Mothersbaugh's involvement? Was he ever involved?

I'll say yes.

INTERVIEW WITH UGO:

Wes actually put out the idea of scoring the film first like an old Looney Tunes cartoon. I think the way that would work is that you would do it like a radio show, where you record all the voices, then I would score that.


INTERVIEW WITH WIRED:


These days, they're listening to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in preparation for Anderson's next production, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. "It's a dark story," Mothersbaugh says. "There's a lot of flesh eating involved."


According to IMDB it's being scored by Alexandre Desplat now. I wonder if the film still follows a tone that would use Gilbert and Sullivan for reference.

2) I'm assuming the Burl Ives song Wes Anderson is going to use in the movie is none other than "The Fox". The one about swiping the food and about the Town-O. No?

3) Cate Blanchett was replaced with Meryl Streep for the role of Mrs. Fox. Not a clue as to why.

4) I thought I read somewhere that Jarvis Cocker narrated a part in the beginning and now it might be cut, due to bad screening feedback. Will it? Agh.

I already mentioned I'm really excited to see what comes out of this, right? I love how they handled the animation. Akin to the era of Paddington Bear or The Wind In The Willows, for lack of a better example. It does have a level of spontaneity that matches Quentin Blake's sketchy illustrations, but in stop-motion photography. Even though Henry Selick didn't get to handle the animation (the film's production was delayed, so he took on Neil Gaiman's Coraline instead), it's pretty obvious that the film's not-so-fluid style is deliberate. Besides, I can't see why anyone would doubt Anderson's visual sense, considering everything he's done before, you'd think it would be even more exponentially awesome in a completely controlled enviornment. Anyone looking for something far more slicker is missing the point.

"Waah, waah, I'm outraged that the adaptation is in competent hands!"

Also, I do have to mention about the changes that were inevitably made to the story. I gotta admit, although the book is great, it wouldn't translate directly into a feature film well. In fact, there's barely enough here to reach 45 minutes of screen time, if that... heck, the trailer already has way more characters than the book does, and has situtaions that go beyond what the book has done. But I'm perfectly comfortable with that. It doesn't feel out of place, and being a fan of both Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson's work, I think he's well qualified to use the book as a template and enrich it with more character for a more fuller cinematic experience.

Of course, credit to Quentin Blake for the creating the original imagery.

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