The Fantastic Mr Fox - Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson © 20th Century Fox

First published in 1970, Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr Fox has entertained children for almost forty years. When writer/director Wes Anderson was a child it was the first book he ever owned. Now he’s bringing the story to the screen for a whole new generation of children to enjoy.

Why did you decide to make this book into a movie?

I loved the book when I was a child. I loved Mr. Fox’s character, and also it introduced me to Roald Dahl in general. I started reading the other Dahl books. But I still have the copy of the book that I got when I was seven. At a certain point, I thought I would like to do an animated film, and simultaneously I thought of doing this book.

You’re used to doing live action – did you go nuts with the stop-motion?

The way the process actually occurs is that everything’s happening very, very gradually, but there are so many things happening at once that it doesn’t become about patience and waiting, it’s instead about bouncing back and forth from one thing to the next.

Did they put scenes from the movie together for you to see or were you a part of that moment-by-moment of the stop-motion?

The Fantastic Mr Fox - George Clooney and Meryl Streep
Mr Fox (George Clooney) and Mrs Fox (Meryl Streep) © 20th Century Fox

We spent a year preparing the movie, writing the script, casting and recording the actors, drawing the storyboards and editing them to fit the recordings, and then working with the production designer, and the props and designing the puppets.

I thought that I would hand it over to a team of animators and they would animate it, and I thought I might go direct another movie during that time, and then it would come back and I would be able to score it and do the finishing work. But it was nothing like that.

Fairly early on I realized that the only way that I was going to be happy with the movie is to be involved with all of it.

You used a lot of the designs in the movie from Roald Dahl’s Gipsy House.

I spent quite a lot of time with Roald Dalh’s (widow) Liccy. I visited her at her house many times and we even wrote some of the script there. It just made such an impression on me. With a movie like this if you say, ‘We need a chair,’ you don’t have somebody say, ‘We’ve got five chairs and you can pick one.’

Instead they say, ‘You can have any chair in the world that you want, because we have to make it this big [for the puppets].’ So you have the chance to design everything, because it’s got to be manufactured from scratch. So I just said, ‘Let’s start with Gipsy House.’

It was always my goal to make it as Dahl-esque as it could be, and that seemed like a good place to start.

When you started this did you know how you were going to have the actors do the lines – you use a throw away style that’s very clever.

The Fantastic Mr Fox - George Clooney
Mr Fox (George Clooney) © 20th Century Fox

Yes. It was in my mind from the beginning that we record them in a documentary [style], and I also thought it would be fun to go to a farm together to get to know each other. It just seemed like a positive idea. I think there’s some things that came out of that that were really unexpected.

We had a scene where they see this wolf, and Bill Murray went up to the top of the hill to play the wolf for the other cast members just to watch him, but he did the wolf so well that we videoed him with a phone, and we gave that to our animators who modeled the performance of the wolf on Bill Murray’s performance. He was a very good wolf.

What was it about George Clooney that was right for him to play Mr. Fox?

I wanted him in the movie just as George Clooney, not really thinking strictly of his voice, just as somebody who I’ve loved in movies. But once we got into the editing room I realized how strong his voice is and how much comes through in it.

Why are the farmers all British and the animals all Americans?

We decided to make the animals Americans just because we felt like we wrote funnier, better dialogue for Americans. So we decided that the humans can be British, because it’s written in Britain, but I don’t think British animals have British accents. So we felt we had a license so we could just do whatever accents we wanted for those.

Why don’t the chicken’s talk?

The Fantastic Mr Fox - Eric Anderson and Jason Schwartzman
Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) and Ash (Jason Schwartzman) © 20th Century Fox

The thing about whether or not the chickens should talk, or those kinds of decisions, at a certain point, if you think about it too much, it doesn’t make any sense at all. The farmers have British accents and the animals have American accents, but they both speak English, can they talk to each other? Do the farmers see the clothes on the animals? We don’t know.

That’s like a staple of this kind of thing, I guess. I think most people just go with it, because when you’re caught up in the middle of it you do have moments where you say, ‘We have to address these problems.’ But then eventually you say, ‘We will just be making a nature documentary if we try to figure this out too carefully.’

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.