Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) revolves around Mr. Fox (George Clooney), a cunning, somewhat egotistical bird thief. The film is a dry, witty comedy suitable for both children and adults; however, it’s greatest interest is the portrayal of a morally gray character.
Anderson sets up expectations for Mr. Fox’s character in the opening scene, in which he coaxes his wife to steal a bird with him. He asks Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) a series of questions with a specific answer in mind and points her to what he wants to hear. They are seemingly harmless questions, such as “Should we take the long way or the shortcut?” When she says the shortcut, he tells her that the long route is prettier, pushing her after he has already made a decision. However, during this heist he also compliments her in a genuine way, setting up his conflicting yet realistic character traits. After catching the birds, he spots a hanging chain that he identifies as a spring-loaded fox trap. His wife urges him not to pull the chain, but he insists, saying it would drop away from them. Instead, the trap falls onto both of them, and farmers with guns come running out. Due to his miscalculation and stubbornness, he endangers both his own life and the life of his wife and unborn child. Realizing this, he promises to find another line of work for the sake of his family. This points the viewer to wonder how many times he has endangered his family before and if he will continue despite his promise.
However, Mr. Fox is quickly unsatisfied with his domestic life as a newspaper staff writer and father. Feeling “poor,” he takes all of his family’s savings to buy a beautiful house that just so happens to be located near three of the biggest bird farmers in the area. Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), a plumber, is enlisted in Mr. Fox’s “master plan” to steal from Boggis, Bunce, and Bean’s farms. This scene details his highly convoluted plan (drugging guard dogs, breaking locks, climbing fences) to sneak, steal, and lie to everyone around him in order to fulfill his last grand heist. He constantly talks over Kylie, who is clearly just going along with his boss, and stresses the importance of listening to his every word. The two succeed in all three heists, but not undetected. The farmers find him and threaten his wife, his child, and his home.
After their community is destroyed, Mr. Fox and those around him are forced into the sewers, where they are being slowly starved out. He pulls his wife aside to apologize to her, something the audience would never have expected him to do at the beginning of the film. She tells him she loves him, but she shouldn’t have married him. This scene takes the viewers out of the warm-toned, nature-filled atmosphere of the rest of the setting, adding a sense of foreboding and depression to the previously comedic and light story. This visual is paired with the similar sadness of two people who love each other but are not good for each other. Mr. Fox’s inability to truly change has not only physically endangered those he cares about, but also destroyed his interpersonal relationships.
Boggis, Bunce and Bean kidnap Mr. Fox’s nephew as a last ditch effort to catch him. It almost works, before Fox decides to use the cunning that has gotten him into this mess to solve it. Instead of bulldozing those he is working with, he uses each animal’s strengths – such as the mole’s ability to see in the dark and the rabbit’s speed – to craft a plan to save his family. He comes together with everyone he has wronged in order to save someone innocent. The film does not end with Mr. Fox truly changing from a wild animal; rather, he learns to harness his flaws in productive and helpful ways.