The pressures of normalcy for any child are just as polarizing as the pressures of being a great parent. When a child senses a difference within themselves, the desire to run away from whatever separates them from the flock is stronger than desires to embrace it. Which is exactly what Ash, the enigmatic son of Mr. Fox in the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1970 best-selling children’s story, Fantastic Mr. Fox, deals with head on: the need for an acceptance in an unaccepting world that, at 12 years old, is a world that mainly consists of his parents. With the focus of the 2009 stop-motion animated film – directed by stylist extraordinaire, Wes Anderson – on the antics of Mr. Fox, a former-chicken-thief-turned-news-columnist who goes for one last heist before retirement, the relationships between the core family members (Ash, Mr. Fox and Mrs. Fox), are explored as deeply as the ongoing shenanigans and mishaps exuded by the fox family’s patriarch. As a viewer, you feel Ash’s adolescent angst (fueled by a need for connection with his father), and sympathize with his willingness to attain such a bond in whatever way he can. You understand that Mr. Fox loves his family but also loves the thrill of the hunt. You sense the disapproval and resentment from Mrs. Fox towards Mr. Fox, but you know that her criticisms only stem from love. These are themes that the viewer is easily conscious of, thus creating a family-friendly viewing experience that transcends generations, and teaches us about our own families.
I mean, who hasn’t felt the sting of rejection? Loneliness? Difference? Especially at 12. I’ve failed to meet anyone who hasn’t felt at least one of these emotions in adolescence. And this is what makes Fantastic Mr. Fox so relatable: It taps into feelings of alienation and teaches kids that it’s OK to be different, to be who you want to be, and to live without fear. As Mrs. Fox tells Ash, in my favorite scene of the film: “Ash, I know what it’s like to be different. We’re all different, but there’s something kind of fantastic about that.” Also, Fantastic Mr. Fox not only teaches kids that being unique is wonderful, it also teaches them that parents make mistakes as well, which is actually more of a lesson that adults can benefit from more so than kids. When Mr. Fox realizes the extremity of his actions and what his family goes through, he says: “I don’t know. But I have a theory. I think I have this thing where I want everybody to think I’m the greatest, the ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ and if they aren’t completely knocked out, dazzled or kind of intimidated by me, then I feel terrible about myself. Foxes traditionally like to hunt prey, outsmart predators and that’s what I’m actually good at. I think at the end of the day, I’m just – “ Mrs. Fox interrupts: “I know. We’re wild animals.” It’s in this scene that a subtle shift in the film occurs and the familial bond between the fox family members deepens. Mrs. Fox realizes she’s been too hard on her husband for doing things that come naturally; Mr. Fox understands that he mustn’t thieve to make a living while accepting his son for who he is; and Ash finds the confidence within himself to be who he is while also saving the day.
As far as family films go, Fantastic Mr. Fox succeeds in both entertaining and teaching. At a time when being yourself can feel the most painful, having a character like Ash, and parents like Mr. and Mrs. Fox, creates a model of tolerance and acceptance for a child’s self that perhaps other films and books fail to provide as engagingly or effectively.
Fantastic Mr. Fox can be purchased at Amazon