Thematic Analysis of Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr FoxI watched Fantastic Mr Fox. I thought it was wonderful. So I watched it a second time. And it all made sense. It is an allegory about class. The three farmers represent the power elite. The other humans represent the liberal class — as defined by Chris Hedges in Death of the Liberal Class. And the animals are the working class. So let me go through this because it probably isn’t obvious.

The hardest characters to understand are the non-owning humans: the liberal class. We aren’t talking the middle class. We are talking about the upper half of the upper class: the people in the top 10% of incomes. These are the people who are supposed to keep the power elite (the top 0.1% — more or less) from getting out of hand and taking everything for themselves. And in so doing, they prevent the working class from rebelling. But like in our own time, this class has totally lost track of this first duty. All they do is allow the power elite to take more and more by oppressing the working class.

The three farmers are a very accurate representation of the rich in our society. But this kind of representation is so out of favor that it has an anachronistic feel to it. This is probably because the farmers are the one thing that I most remember being the same from the book. And the book was written in 1970. You know: when powerful labor unions still existed in the US and UK — when workers still saw their wages go up with productivity and took it for granted. I know that the rich don’t think of themselves as Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. It’s called cognitive dissonance. It’s what allows people to have billions of dollars while others starve and then use those billions to buy elections so that they can acquire more money. Now that I think about it, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean are too good a representation of these “people.”

Now clearly, Mr Fox has his personality issues. He’s a narcissist. Yet most great leaders are. Does he create a better future for all the other animals? I think the answer is less muddled in the book. There, Mr Fox is only stealing chickens to feed his family. And in the end, the animals seem to be in a better place. In the film, the farmers’ attacks on the animals are really the fault of Mr Fox’s narcissism. And at the end, the animals are living in the sewer and stealing from the grocery store. I’m not sure that is a long-term strategy for success. But it is clear that the animals had no choice after the farmers started their campaign against Mr Fox.

The film provides the other alternative by way of the wolf: the animals could separate themselves from human civilization. In other words, unlike the truly ridiculous notion in Atlas Shrugged where the rich “go on strike,” the workers actually could leave. And it would shutdown everything else. Of course, that isn’t the case in Fantastic Mr Fox because unlike in the real world, the humans do not depend upon the animals (workers). So on that point, the allegory breaks down. But those are the choices for the working class. We can flee or we can fight. We workers have enormous power if we stick together. Because there is no doubt: the system is broken. The farmers are destroying our homes, without a thought to the fact that they are only harming themselves. Even for their sake, we need to stop them.

Afterword

As a film, it is really charming. And it is totally Wes Anderson. I was curious about it because he’s not known for animation. But it looks exactly like you would think it would. And it is filled with flights of fancy. It’s just a wonderful film, even if you don’t care about the politics.

8 thoughts on “Thematic Analysis of Fantastic Mr Fox

    • What a cogent response! Foul-mouthed too! You must be so proud!

      Funny how commenters like you (and you’re a dime a dozen) are so assured of your opinions but have nothing to say but “You’re wrong!”

      Sad little man. I really do wish I could cheer you up. Honestly. I fear you may do yourself harm.

    • Oh, I just read it! (It’s been over 3 years.) And I see the problem: Sebastian (his stated email address is typically vulgar: suckmydick at gmail) doesn’t like to talk about class. He’s one of these guys who thinks that class doesn’t exist and the rich deserve everything they have and blah, blah, blah. There is no understanding that the huge push of wealth from the bottom to the top of society is the result of government policy and not the fact that the rich are so much smarter now. I guess he hasn’t seen US Productivity and Real Wages.

      And how dare I take a children’s story and apply politics to it! Especially a story by Roald Dahl, a man known for his libertarian, man-eat-man sensibility. That’s certainly never been done before! (Note to Sebastian because I figure you’re something of a dullard: that’s sarcasm. “Sarcasm” is irony used for humorous effect. “Irony” is… Oh, forget it!)

      Regardless, Sebastian, who is too cowardly to leave a real email address where I could contact him and have an actual conversation, has cut me to the bone with his powerful argument: “no. you’re absolutely fucking mistaken.” I think I’ll end it all now. Forgive me, Sebastian, but I just can’t go on living. You have destroyed my entire intellectual edifice. Now where did I put that gun…

  1. Hey Frank,
    Just wanted to say I enjoyed your analysis a lot! I’m a huge Wes Anderson fan yet somehow I only recently watched this movie(never been a huge fan of animation) and absolutely loved it! You’re political analysis was really interesting and makes lots of sense, but I was wondering what you think about it in a religious lens? I noticed lots of possible different religious symbols and situations being incorporated into it but wasn’t exactly able to make lots of sense of them having only watched the film once. Some things I noticed were:

    The last supper(this one’s a bit of a stretch but knowing Anderson I figured it was purposeful)
    Apple(garden of Eden where Ash takes the apple cookies)
    The holy trinity(The three large corporations)
    Human attitude towards the environment
    No real cussing(the idea of sins)
    “Thou shall not steal”

    What are your thoughts on these?? I’d love to hear back from you, thank you!

    Blake

    • That sounds great! I’ve been arguing for decades that art creators don’t create meaning; art consumers do. That’s why I hate it when artists talk about their work. At best, all you get is an idea of their process. But the bad thing is that others will insist that given the artist said X was about Y, then that is what it is about. The artist gets one vote, just like everyone else.

      I’ll have to watch the film again with what you’ve said in mind. The better the art the more ways there are to experience it. Truly transcendent art can move me beyond meaning. I’ve had that experience with many things but what comes readily to mind are early American Classical Realism and pre-perspective Christian art. These experiences are ephemeral, however. Eventually, I get back into my brain analyzing. But it’s wonderful while it lasts!

      But it is certainly true when I say “X means Y,” I’m only speaking to myself. I’ve written a lot about superhero movies and their fundamental fascistic nature. My mind naturally picks up on the political elements. But if a work of art (not that I’m granting that superhero movies are art — I despise them) only worked on one level, it wouldn’t be art; it would be polemic. That’s why I’m not that hot on Animal Farm but do rather like Nineteen Eighty-Four. The relationship between Winston and Julia transcends everything else. I know Orwell didn’t intend that. But he was also dying and so left far more to think about than he normally would have. What does it matter that the Party can torture you to think something different? That doesn’t take away the love that existed between them. You can erase history but you cannot erase the past.

      Sadly, it will likely be some time before I’m able to watch this film again. Right now I’m watching all the films of JR Bookwalter for a long article on Psychotronic Review. But I do occasionally need breaks from these kinds of films. I’ll see if I can slot it in. But I suspect I could make some kind of case for a religious meaning of the film. The problem with a Christian reading of it is that Mr Fox doesn’t die. If he died and that led the animals to the store (representing heaven) it would be stronger. Regardless, there’s a lot more going on in that film that politics! There’s also a clear reading about freedom. Mr Fox ultimately wants the freedom of Grab What You Can World. The wolf at the end living in a lawless world. And, of course, the farmers live in a statist world. But there I go again: back into politics.

      Thanks for your insights!

  2. Thank you for this awesome analysis! I’m doing a essay on fantastic mr fox for school and I thought this was extremely helpful. I loved the point u made when you said “ we can either flee or fight”. This point really reminds me that we all have a choice whether to run away or stay and fight and make a difference!

  3. Frank,
    I wholeheartedly agree with your statement when you wrote:
    “I’ve been arguing for decades that art creators don’t create meaning; art consumers do.”
    It would be foolish for any artist to argue about what his art meant, if he excluded all other interpretations as being incorrect. The purpose of art, to the artist, is to convey his thoughts and emotions to an audience, but he would be wise to realize (as I think most are) that the audience sees through the eyes of their own experience.
    Art is generally created by people with ‘liberal’ mindsets. (Liberal in the older sense of the word, not the radical Leftists of today.) Most reviews are written by ‘colleagues’ with similar points of view, and degrees. Therefore, the usual interpretations of movies like ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’ are those of the rich suppressing the poor. The rest of us just shake our heads in disbelief, as did Sebastian in the first response to your analysis.
    I had the same response when I took a speech class at my local community college where my teacher said that ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was about British Imperialism. Some pap about the beanstalk being the ocean, the giant being the world, and Jack being the rapist of all he purveyed. In response, I wrote an analysis of how ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ was about feminism. The evil witch was the embodiment of feminism, she offered Snow White a bite of the poisonous apple of her philosophies while disguised as a trusted, harmless, elderly figure, and the apple ‘opened her eyes’ through the perception of the seven ‘dwarves’. Each ‘dwarf’ represented different traits of men: Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Doc, all of them small, harmless, ineffective, and manageable, even as they tried to help her. In the end, the Prince comes along and gives Snow White the antidote with his kiss, and she sees her ‘man’ as being a whole person, who is handsome gentle, and kind. The evil of feminism and its influences are cast into hell where it can no longer perpetrate its evil influences on the bond that God created between man and wife.
    My teacher rolled his eyes at this interpretation, and I was deeply satisfied that my story seemed as absurd to him as his to me.
    In that vein, I would say (not to rile you, as was intended with my teacher, but rather to simply convey my life’s experience) that ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’ was a not a battle of rich and greedy vs poor for the sake of necessity and survival, but (as you touched on) a narcissist getting a rush from stealing and seeing what he can away with.
    The reality is that the Fox family is not destitute and hungry, but simply that Mr. Fox needs to ‘feel’ like he isn’t poor, and he does this by victimizing those who have had more success in life. In this way, he can feel superior to them, ironically, in the SAME WAY most poor people look at the rich as doing to THEM.
    Mr. Fox puts his family at great risk for his ego.
    Politically, Leftists generally run on convincing people that they are victims of the ‘greedy’ rich, and that they will be their Robin Hoods if elected. In other words, they will STEAL and ‘give’ to their constituents who are ‘horribly treated and disadvantaged’ as a result of the success of the rich.
    This causes a dichotomy among the lower class. What if they should happen to work hard, be successful, and earn more than those who they call their ‘brothers’ in poverty? Wouldn’t they then become targets who will be expected to give up what they have earned to those ‘less fortunate’, and be ‘pulled back down’ into the lower class? Yes! That is what is expected among the poor! I have seen it!
    Who really gets rich off of the Robin Hood scam? Politicians who present this story to get elected. If they could ever fix the problem, what purpose would they serve after that? It’s like the mentally sick person who marries his counselor; if she cures him, he won’t need her anymore, so she doesn’t.
    Biblically, Mr. Fox goes against, “Thou shall not steal”, and “Thou shall not covet”.
    Jesus tells the parable of a farmer who, early in the morning, hires some men to work in his fields. A couple of hours later, he returns to town to hire more. He does this all through the day, until about 2 hours before the sun sets and the work for the day is done. The farmer pays all the men…the same amount, no matter how long they worked. The men who worked longer grumble that the last hired men only worked 2 hours. The farmer says, “Didn’t I pay you what I agreed to pay you when I hired you?” Matthew 20:1-16
    This parable says: 1) The farmer has a right to do what he wishes with HIS property (money, land, etc.), 2) A contract is a contract. We are obligated to follow through on our promises.
    As far as business owners go, there is a proverb that says: “Do not muzzle the Ox while he is plowing”. A muzzle would keep the Ox from eating while he is working. I believe this means to treat our workers fairly because we are relying on them, and it is in everybody’s best interest to be a good, reasonable boss.
    Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope I have represented another perspective (that is rarely represented, or published) well.

    • I don’t think your analysis is different from mine. But when the farmers’ actions affect all the animals, it does become a story about class.

      I’m afraid you misunderstand what the left actually stands for. Conservatives and liberals alike seem to think that socialists believe everyone is equal and that everyone will be paid the same. This is not true at all. One could still be rich under socialism. But they would be rich because of their work — not because they owned something. This is why I spend more time thinking past socialism because I believe hierarchy is the ultimate evil.

      You can read the Bible any way you wish. However, that’s an odd reading of Matthew 20. I think most people see it as being about the reward of accepting Jesus as the savior. It doesn’t matter when you come to God, you will be equally rewarded. The reason it’s an interesting parable is because it goes against our sense of justice. It isn’t intended to justify capricious behavior by employers.

      You aren’t really suggesting that the Ten Commandments is a moral document, are you? It’s overwhelmingly religious law. And there’s very little morality and no nuance. Should you really obey your parents if they beat and rape you? What if your parents tell you to kill someone? It amazes me that people trot it out as some kind of great moral teaching when I could do a better job scribbling for 5 minutes.

      “Leftists generally run on convincing people that they are victims of the ‘greedy’ rich.” Sigh. There has been a massive push of wealth from the bottom to the top over the last 50 years — due to government policy. See What’s Behind the Increase in Inequality. See States Screw the Poor and Middle Classes. See: The Rich, the Right, and the Facts: Deconstructing the Income Distribution Debate. It’s funny watching conservative politicians pandering to their base while claiming that it is liberals who are doing it. The truth is that every politician panders — as they should. The idea that it is just the left that does this is based on the fatuous belief that giving bankers billions of dollars isn’t welfare. It’s based on the assumption that the poor deserve their poverty and the rich deserve their wealth. Truly, I’d rather go back to divine right of kings than have to deal with this nonsense because most people don’t even realize they make this assumption.

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