FoxingClever Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox was the first book oddball director Wes Anderson owned. Here he tells Anna Rogers about his dark, anarchic and fun film adaptation

T exan born director Wes Anderson is renowned for making highly detailed and idiosyncratic films populated with slightly neurotic, child-like characters (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited). Seeing him in person, you realise that he wouldn’t look out of place in one of his own cinematic creations: even the light-brown needlecord suit he wears matches exactly the attire of his latest protagonist, Mr Fox. Prone to avoiding eye contact and nervously fidgeting with his hands, his demeanour is completely unassuming, at least until I ask him his reasons for choosing such a painstaking form of animation (stop-motion) to make his newest feature film. Suddenly, he lights up, becoming more like an animated schoolboy who’s been invited to explain his latest hobby.

‘All of those Eastern European films, like Irene Starewicz’s Le Roman de Renard, they were my inspiration for this,’ he says. ‘To me, the story of Fantastic Mr Fox is like that of Robin Hood. There’s definitely a political aspect to the narrative because it’s about

18 THE LIST 22 Oct–5 Nov 2009

freedom that boundary between wildness and civilisation.’

Certainly, the history of stop-animation is a culturally rich one; used by Czech filmmakers, such as Jan Svankmajer, to politically subversive ends during the 1970s and 1980s, the form has become almost inseparable from this historical context. In this respect, Anderson, who has always managed to marry distinctive style with content, has chosen the most pertinent form to visualise Roald Dahl’s narrative, bringing the themes of anarchy and freedom at the heart of Fantastic Mr Fox to the fore. Bearing in mind that Anderson is the kind of director who likes to oversee every aspect of his production, stop-motion was also important in allowing him to reach his zenith in terms of ‘the details of filmmaking’. While he admits that stop-motion was not the easiest option, it was the most suitable for him personally. ‘Because the pace of making the film is that much slower, I had so many opportunities to work on different aspects of the production

process; I was able to refine things on this film in a way that I haven’t been able to before.’ The rich reds, blues and yellows of the film’s colour palette, achieved through highly precise work on miniature sets, are testament to this level of refinement. Yet Anderson also claims the process was not all that different from making a live-action film. ‘I really tried to shoot this film in the same way I would have shot any other. Stop- animation is already part of my arsenal as a filmmaker anyway so it’s not like this was completely unknown to me,’ he states. What he found slightly different however was the task of directing animators as well as actors. ‘I realised that the animators kind of have to become the actors. I also noticed that no two animators will follow directions in the same way, so the personality of these guys has contributed as much to the characters as what the actors themselves brought to the movie.’

While Anderson was determined to remain faithful to the spirit of Dahl’s book it is his favourite children’s story and the first book he