Wes Anderson’s delightful film Fantastic Mr. Fox delicately induces a call to be confident in one’s individuality while also growing and changing with the times.
I hadn’t seen Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) until I watched it in November 2020. By then, I was an adult, fresh off earning my bachelor’s degree and beginning my first “real” job. But to say I had everything figured out would be furiously foolish. I had been struggling with my self-confidence for a few years at that point, and college presented a series of challenges in that area. I found myself much more reserved and afraid to embrace my own individuality. On top of some personal struggles, the world was rapidly changing. Advancing technology, a global pandemic, and political unrest, among other things, left me and many others spiraling. This film tackles personally relevant subjects in a way that was inspiring, and it came into my life at a time when I truly needed to hear its message of being comfortable in your own skin and finding your place in a changing and confusing world.
Fantastic Mr. Fox follows a family of, you guessed it, foxes. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a newspaper columnist who desperately wants a taste of his old life as a “wild animal,” hunting for food and relishing in the threat of danger. Because of his reckless decisions, he endangers his family and other animals when he draws the attention of three farmers. Mr. Fox must then rescue his nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), from the farmers while rallying the other animals to avoid extermination.
The movie focuses primarily on Mr. Fox, a character who is growing older and longs for his former sense of adventure. He embraces who he once was, while seemingly rejecting who he must be now that he is a father. Anderson frequently includes title cards at the beginning of scenes, showing how much human time has passed compared to fox time. These moments intentionally reveal that time is quickly slipping away from Mr. Fox, who feels like he has not accomplished all that he wants. He asks his opossum friend, Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), “Who am I? How can a fox ever be happy without a chicken in its teeth?”
Time passes, and with the passage of time comes change. Mr. Fox’s circumstances are always shifting, whether it be accepting Kristofferson into his home, or his home being destroyed. Though these changes come, Mr. Fox is eventually able to accept them. My favorite scene comes towards the end of the film, when Mr. Fox, who admits to a phobia of wolves, meets a lone wolf after escaping from the farmers’ clutches. Seeing the wolf, another “wild animal,” Mr. Fox embraces his fear – the wolf and, by extension, his fear of change – and salutes the wolf with a raised fist. The wolf mimics the gesture, then runs off. The scene is the most symbolic in the film, implying that Mr. Fox has accepted his lots in life while also not completely letting go of his own personality.
Mr. Fox is not the only character who grows throughout the film. His son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman) plays an important role if one is to understand the movie’s theme. When the audience first meets Ash, he emerges from his bedroom, pretending to be sick to avoid going to school. His mother, Felicity Fox (Meryl Streep), quickly deduces that Ash simply does not want to go to school, establishing Ash as insecure. The audience sees Ash attempting to become an athlete, with other characters describing the young fox as “different.” This hurts Ash at first, until his mother pulls him aside in a touching scene.
Underground to escape the farmers, Mrs. Fox tells Ash “We are all different…but there is something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?” I identify with Ash more than any other character in the film. I remember the heavy self-confidence issues, but I also remember the people who invested in me and encouraged me, like Mrs. Fox with her son. This movie, along with the real people in my life, helped me embrace my own individuality, like both Mr. Fox and Ash learn to do by the film’s end. The ending scene shows the family, along with Kylie, dancing in a supermarket, happy, confident, and ready to take on the next change in life.
Despite first seeing the film 11 years after its original release, I quickly grew fond of Fantastic Mr. Fox, its visual style, quirky characters, and touching story. I especially attached myself to both Mr. Fox and Ash and their individual journeys to find confidence and assurance in who they are. While some may write off Anderson’s animated adventure as nothing more than a children’s story, the fact is that there are universal themes embedded in Fantastic Mr. Fox for all ages. The times are changing, for better or worse. The sooner one can be confident in himself or herself, the sooner they can face the challenges of an ever-changing world. We are all different, and I must concur with Mrs. Fox: There is something VERY fantastic about that.