Photo: ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’
Thanksgiving is upon us once again. It’s an American holiday of ubiquitous iconography and tradition: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the NFL on CBS, and a countrywide feast of biblical proportions. For better or worse, most of us eagerly anticipate our chance to participate in the American myth-making machine, every time the fourth Thursday in November rolls around. But if asked to provide a list of movies that epitomize the truest essence of Thanksgiving, most of us would probably start to run out of examples after perhaps John Hughes’ ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ and maybe a few others. One movie that most people likely overlook in this discussion is Wes Anderson’s ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, which, dare I say, is a fantastic exemplification of the essential themes for which the notion of Thanksgiving was originally conceived – those themes being: the importance of family (blood or chosen), building a sense of community through the sharing of food and resources, and a concerted effort to appreciate who we are, what we have, and more importantly, who we have in this wild world.
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This stop-motion adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl children’s classic, without ever directly referencing the holiday itself, embodies the look, feel, and flavor of Thanksgiving in every element of its filmmaking, from the positively ornate set design, to the deeply autumnal and painterly color palette, to the potent family thematics of the story. This Thanksgiving ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is the perfect movie for any family who finds themselves flopped about the living room in the early evening, still digesting the remnants of their prodigious meal, and looking for the perfect Turkey-day flick to bring the annual festival of gratitude and gluttony to a more fitting close than their belts can currently manage.
‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’: Fighting With My Family
Given that the screenplay was co-written by ‘Marriage Story’ auteur Noah Baumbach and Anderson (no stranger to stories of familial dysfunction — ‘The Royal Tenenbaums,’ ‘The Darjeeling Limited,’ etc.), ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is a movie deeply concerned with one of the unavoidable elements of Thanksgiving itself: family. Mr. Fox’s (voiced by George Clooney) immediate family unit includes his wife Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryll Steep), and his son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). When Ash’s cousin Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Chase Anderson) is forced to move in with them after his father falls deathly ill, the Fox family’s dynamic is forever altered by his unexpected presence. Kristofferson is as amiable and patient a houseguest as one could ever imagine, but Ash, who feels acutely insecure when in direct comparison with the taller, more athletic, more emotionally stable Kristofferson, mostly cannot stand him. Mr. Fox, on the other hand, is tremendously impressed by Kristofferson, and even enlists his help in his daring series of poultry heists. At one point Ash tells the clearly grief-stricken Kristofferson that he’s “Had it up to here with the sad houseguest routine.” Spending time with extended family can be disquieting, and can sometimes engender these feelings of distrust and petty jealousy that Ash harbors towards his entirely innocent cousin. As writers, Anderson and Baumbach are always interested in exploring the sometimes ugly and often subtle nuances of these kinds of familial paradigms. As holidays go, on the short list of yearly events that are most likely to unearth some unspoken family conflict, Thanksgiving ranks pretty high.
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Thanksgiving, when it’s all said and done, is about one thing – food. The movie’s antagonistic trio of dastardly mega-farmers Boggis (chicken), Bunce (duck and goose), and Bean (turkey and apple), who rule over Mr. Fox’s valley, all specialize in a unique strain of cash crop or signature brand of livestock. In a hilariously efficient exposition scene, the movie breaks down these three farmers and their uniformly ruthless agricultural business operations. Each villain survives and prospers off of his own farmed resources, on his own fiercely protected land. This introductory montage features so many mouth-watering tableaus of smoked meat, salted poultry, golden bubbling cider, and glistening fire-red apples, that one is liable to lick the screen. The movie’s pièce de résistance in the realm of sumptuous Thanksgiving-esque culinary spectacle is undoubtedly the celebratory dinner party held at Badger’s (voiced by Bill Murray) flint mine.
This scene’s tantalizing collection of vittles, goodies, spirits, and all manner of comfort foods is one to rival any assortment of comestibles ever assembled on film. To top off (literally) this positively delectable sequence, Anderson interrupts the congenial atmosphere of the Flint mine by flooding the frame (again, literally), in a fizzing tsunami of Bean’s world-famous “liquid gold” cider. One can almost feel the audience give out a collective, cathartic burp at the end of this scene. All of the handmade detail and deeply considered design effort that went into the depiction of Mr.Fox’s distinctly Thanksgiving-themed cuisine is astoundingly evident. The movie’s dedication to this specific artistic pursuit is borderline fetishistic.
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Autumn Leaves Must Fall Down
Wes’ instinctual sense of film grammar and his inimitable visual style made him a natural fit for the medium of stop motion since it requires so much deliberate, pre-determined arrangement and fastidious attention to detail. One can picture Anderson staring at the myriad of expertly-crafted miniatures for his film, and obsessing over the precise symmetry of a weasel or a rabbit entering the frame. The set for Bean’s coveted cider cellar, is gloriously adorned in a glowing haze of amber light, shot through the prism of dozens of individually crafted miniature jugs of cider. All of the movie’s bucolic exteriors are exclusively colored in a mixture of auburns, chestnuts, and gold pigments. The sun always seems to be bathing the world of ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ in a vibrant, bleeding rainbow of primary colors. One could honestly pause this movie at any point during its runtime, and always be staring at a poster-worthy, or at least screenshot-worthy, image.
The ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ blu-ray contains some must-see making-of footage that reveals the curious and brilliant strategy that Anderson employed when capturing his lead actor’s voice-over performances. In this feature, superstar actors like George Clooney, Meryll Streep, and Bill Murray can be seen passionately performing entire scenes of dialogue from the movie in the middle of a pasture that is situated on a remote, rural Connecticut farm. Anderson, alongside a scaled-down sound crew, recorded all of the actor’s performances out in the open air, instead of inside a sterile studio environment, in order to authentically capture the natural ambient tonalities of the world in which the characters live – that world being, the wilderness. It’s a small detail, but one that gives the movie’s auditory appeal a tremendous sense of verisimilitude, which viewers can instinctively sense, even if they can’t quite put their finger on why. A portion of this feature exists on YouTube and is worth checking out if only to witness the sight of Clooney and Anderson performing a crucial scene while pretending to ride a completely stationary ATV. The striking stylistic combination of audiovisual flourishes that Anderson and his team of artists create in the construction of ‘Mr. Fox’ all coalesces into giving the viewer the distinct sensation of taking a pleasant stroll, down a country lane, in the brisk autumn air.
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We’re Wild Animals
In a devastating scene between Mr. and Mrs. Fox that takes place at the feet of a cascading underground waterfall (possibly the film’s single most jaw-dropping visual embellishment), the couple engages in a long overdue reckoning about the fundamental flaws of their union, and Mr. Fox’s inability to not let his roguish ego drive him to make decisions that will ultimately endanger his family and loved ones. Meryll Streep lends her trademark gravitas to the closing line of the scene, “I love you too… But I shouldn’t have married you.” It’s a gutting and honest moment that sets the stage for the movie’s triumphant ending, which sees the Fox family reclaiming and strengthening their familial bonds, as they dance the night away to ‘Let Her Dance’ by The Bobby Fuller Four. I think we can all attest to the fact that seeing your average Thanksgiving dinner oscillate between these two emotional extremes is far from an uncommon occurrence. In the movie’s closing moments, Mr. Fox gives another one of his famous toasts. With a smattering of recently pillaged snacks in hand (courtesy of the now vanquished Boggis, Bunce, and Bean), atop a literal soapbox, the titular Fox drives the overall message of the story home, proclaiming, “We’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt, the five-and-a-half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met.” If that ain’t Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is.
Cast: George Clooney, Meryll Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon.
Director: Wes Anderson
By Dillon Goss-Carpenter
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Dillon is a writer, and a lover of storytelling and creativity across all mediums. He studied Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz, where he became a voracious consumer and ponderer of the creative arts. He has a background in screenwriting, as well as freelance film theory and pop culture journalism. Dillon connected to the inclusive, empowering mission statement of The Hollywood Insider, because of his shared belief in the power of storytelling, and its facility to engender empathy and understanding, as well as entertain. He believes in finding joy and purpose through making, watching, discussing, and dissecting the diverse collection of creative media that inspires him. He has particular interest in stories that come from largely unheard, historically excluded perspectives.