Animated movies are strange. They typically tell stories using all the same themes and principles as action films, comedies, dramas, and everything in between, but something about their visuals tend to convince audiences they should be taken less seriously. Movies like Finding Nemo or Toy Story paint just as much of a Gospel related story as The Revenant or Spotlight, but we can sometimes have a hard time seeing that. Because they are written by adults, and typically for children, it makes sense that these stories are intended to teach some lesson or ideal, but I find that we often shut off our brains even more while watching them. Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr.Fox is no exception to this rule. In fact, it’s the story of a father doing everything he can to care for his family, even if it means breaking promises to his wife and laws of the land in the process. This isn’t just “for kids.”
Mr.Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and Mrs.Fox (Meryl Streep) are very clearly in love. We see this from the moment the film opens, and we get to watch as they go on the Mr. Fox’s many heists throughout the film. Captured and afraid, Mrs.Fox discloses that she is with child, and if they get out of this mess Mr.Fox is to find a new profession. Flash forward two years and we find Mr.Fox is exhausted by the life of a suburban father. He is a writer for the local paper, but not in any way that is deemed flashy or impressive. His son Ash is a disappointment to him, not living up to any of the physical qualities or interests of his father, but trying his best, nonetheless. Mr.Fox want’s to move into a bigger and nicer place and, in order to afford that, he decides to go back to his wily ways.
Do you remember when we talked before about the themes and ideas presented in this film, by adults, and likely directed at children? Here is something for all ages to wrestle with: Is it okay to do whatever it takes to protect and take care of your family?
This conversation based on this question was pretty popular recently, as our government and most of the candidates in the current race began a discussion about whether or not to allow refugees and immigrants into the country. Most of the conversations I saw thrown out on social media were related to this idea of protecting families and children. Not being a parent myself, I can’t possibly understand to what extent a father or mother is willing to go to take care of their family, but this movie shows us a vision of a father, lying to his wife, in order to both provide for his family and meet his own desires for wealth and prosperity.
I realize that last bit is a problem. I think we should stop at almost anything immoral or unjust if our only motivation is our own wealth, but so often these motivations and ideas of what is right can be clouded by our own high-minded opinions of what taking care of ourselves or others should look like. Mr.Fox goes and does exactly what nearly everyone around him condemns. He is warned about the ruthlessness of the farmers he is about to go after, and aware that the chances of his surviving multiple attempts at thievery from these men are slim, but between his own impression of himself and willingness to risk life-and-limb, he still goes for it. Despite the better judgment and wisdom of those around him, and a promise he made to leave this life behind, he forges ahead into danger.
It’s not like they have nothing. His wife and child were being taken care of long before Fox chooses to go back into this business, but he does so to give them the life he thinks they need. The truth is, Ash just wants to enjoy and be enjoyed by his father. Throughout the entire movie, there is this sense of dread we feel as we watch Ash try to live up to his father’s expectations and hope, to little avail. It is clear that he will do anything to be near Mr.Fox, but Fox’s assumptions about who his son would and could be leave them at a distance. Mrs.Fox has the exact same experience. Wishing Mr.Fox would just be content with the life they’ve built. It doesn’t bother her that they don’t have much. She doesn’t nag, expecting him to go out and get more work, but encourages him that they have a good thing going so why try to mess that up?
It’s surprising to me the lengths to which we will go to provide those around us with something they never asked for. If Mr.Fox were a father in today’s world, he would be working late into the night, spending weekends at the office, and going on week long business trips to provide for his family, while they would just be waiting at home wishing he were there. We just want to be with the ones we love, because at the end of the day, that big tree, at the top of the hill, with all the rooms and amenities, it’s going to pass.