That two adaptations of children’s books by ur-offbeat directors have come out nearly simultaneously has been oft-remarked upon. But there is a vast difference in not only style but the two aspects of the psyche the directors represent.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” takes place in a circumscribed world. There’s no Plato’s cave dichotomy – even among the human and animal planes, there exists the same mundane rationality. Not so for Max and his wild pals.
Max’s trip to the island of his id is far removed from the us vs. them of the outside world. Instead there is only internal struggle. Carol, appropriately voiced by James Gandolfini, has Tony Soprano-esque dilemmas. His explosive anger, paradoxically born out of a desperate fear of abandonment, drives those around him further away and literally tears members of his pack apart. The morality tale that Max witnesses on the island serves as a reflection of his true life, which Spike Jonze keeps tinged in believable grays and browns and rooted in real childhood angst.
The externalization of a conflict of desires within characters is familiar territory for Jonze. Foreshortened office hallways for a worker who feels trapped by his occupation, the literal splitting of one personality into two beings – circumstance accounts for the manufacture of surroundings in the Jonze universe.
Alternatively, Wes Anderson’s characters are always fantastical creations of their own egos – fox or not – and Anderson accordingly whimsifies the world around them. With creatures of vulpine, badger and opossum origin, this is less necessary than usual but more encompassing. Taken out of the alterna-New York that Anderson characters often inhabit, he instead starts out with the premise that it doesn’t take urbanity to be urbane.
Like all egoistes, Mr. Fox is buffeted by his own petard. It’s his wile that both gets him into trouble and saves him from the consequences of following his nature. In a slick bit of commentary, Anderson illustrates how the members of the Fox family surmount their wild instincts by having them behave as paragons of civilized virtue – until mealtime.
The two films make a neat Freudian pair; perhaps even more telling is that both directors put themselves at a remove and, by doing so, take on the role of the super-ego.