What's Going On With Fantastic Mr. Fox?

Pretty much everyone’s heard of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and James And The Giant Peach, but Fantastic Mr. Fox isn’t one of Roald Dahl’s more well-known works. I mean, obviously enough people read it that Hollywood decided to make it a movie, but still. Even the movie wasn’t a big hit at the box office. Which is a shame, because the movie had a lot of heart put into it. That said, there’s one thing that kind of bugs me about it.

The plot of the book is pretty simple: Mr. Fox steals food from three farmers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, to feed his family, but the farmers eventually grow tired of it and decide to essentially wage war on the Fox family. The movie, however, makes things a bit more complicated. At the start, Mr. Fox spends his days thieving from farmers, but when a heist almost gets him and his wife killed, Mrs. Fox makes him promise to stop thieving. A couple years later, we see that Mr. Fox isn’t quite happy with his new life/job, so he and his friend Kylie (who, BTW, wasn’t in the book) start secretly stealing from Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. From there, things play out like in the book. Well, a LOT of changes are made, what with it being an adaptation, but the core idea is still the same: it’s the critters vs. the farmers.

In terms of how good of an adaptation the movie is…I’m not sure whether to say that it “butchers” the plot of the book. Even with all the changes it makes, it still has many of the same plot points, and it keeps the charming, upbeat spirit of the book. But the biggest change is with Mr. Fox himself. In the book, he was stealing chickens/ducks/etc to feed his family, whereas in the movie, he’d made a vow not to, only to break that vow. And as a result of him breaking that vow, the farmers got (justifiably) pissed off and made out to exterminate him.

Yeah. Mr. Fox breaking a promise to his wife…that was NOT in the book. Obviously, Mr. Fox isn’t the first character we’ve seen do something like this. Flawed protagonists have been a thing since the beginning of time, and they absolutely can be done right. But in this case, Mr. Fox’s mistake was what caused all the trouble in the first place. His family lost their home. The three farmers are after their blood. And other animals in their community are also being threatened. All because of Mr. Fox. With all that in mind, it begs the question whether he’s really worth rooting for.

Though, in all fairness, Mr. Fox definitely didn’t mean for that bad stuff to happen. He just wanted a good old thrill. And besides, he does face consequences for his actions. Maybe that’s what the filmmakers were going for: a story about a character who did something bad, and has to find a way to redeem himself.

What do you think?


I was under the impression at first when seeing the topic title that something had happened and new Fantastic Mr. Fox was coming out, so I’m a bit disappointed :grimacing:

As for the topic itself, if your determining factor of whether a protagonist is worth rooting for is what kind of consequences their mistakes have, I’m curious what protagonists you do root for. Many of the most well-written film protagonists make some kind of mistake or fall short of the mark they set out to meet, directly causing the circumstances around them to get significantly worse.

It’s a question of what your protagonist does after that. Do they accept responsibility and attempt to rectify the problem? Do they press on to go save the day? Do they make the ultimate sacrifice and atone?

If your definition of a character as being worthy of rooting for means they never mess up, you might like Rey Palpatine Skywalker from the Star Wars sequel films. But most people like characters who are relatable - ones who can and often do screw things up royally and with unforeseen consequences because of it. Even protagonists who remain wholly irredeemable in the eyes of the world they inhabit, like Walter White of Breaking Bad, are not only rooted for en masse but elevated to iconic status by the viewers of the media they appear in.

As for me personally? I’d rather watch a movie about how the protagonist accidentally enables the foe he fears the most and then has to go about undoing his actions over the protagonist doing everything right and then the film ends. One’s an incredibly boring and predictable ride which does nothing to challenge its characters, and the other could be applied to many of the most successful and highly regarded films ever made.


I think what he meant was that the motivations of Mr. Fox in the movie are much less appealing than in the book. In the book, the main character is portrayed in such a way that audiences sympathize with him, but the addition of a backstory wherein he promises to stop stealing makes the events of the book feel wrong. It’s like if you were to come into a Mission Impossible movie not knowing who the heroes are supposed to be: you would see little difference between them and the villains (except for the villains trying to blow up greater areas).

This is pretty much the problem here: in the book, Mr. Fox is justified by the fact that all the humans wanted him dead before the story even started. In the movie, it’s basically his fault anyone wants him dead, and so he comes off as less likeable. Had the book had a backstory the way the movie does, his character might seem less consistent, but the book does not.


Not gonna lie, that sounds like a much more interesting movie than most of the Mission Impossible movies.

And that, in turn, makes him more interesting.

Having a character be likeable does not make that character interesting or even memorable, and in this instance, Mr. Fox doesn’t steal and steal until his luck runs out, like a Robin Hood providing for the needy, but is instead pulled in by the allure of one more heist.

Like I had mentioned in the topic about Willy Wonka also created by thewimpykid, flaws make characters interesting and give them something to do. When Charlie Bucket succeeds in the book by being perfect and incorruptible without the slightest temptation, I sleep. It is boring to start out at perfection, because then nothing can happen. But when the movie throws in Charlie’s impoverished situation as part of his actual character, along with a curiosity which nearly gets him killed in spite of warnings against it, Charlie’s character has somewhere to develop - his actions appear to cost him everything on the gamble that, with everything lost because of him, he will still do the right thing.

If Mr. Fox was simply providing for his family throughout the film, the eventual turning of the farmers would have been expected, predictable, and cliche. With the later events of the film being directly instigated by his actions and the allure of heists, however, the film may lose some likeability points in terms of Mr. Fox not being flawless, but the narrative is significantly more interesting because of it.

That’s why a Mission Impossible movie with no clear villain (or, a villain who turns out to not be a villain later on) makes for a much stronger story than ‘go kill bad guy’. When they discover the villain’s actions are virtually their own, what will the M:I heroes do? Confront their superiors? Side with the presumed villain against the actual threat? Or will some of them cave to their initial commands and continue the path of violence?

Surely that story, or something like it, has been done before. But in every great fictional work you will find that protagonists, if kept as far from perfection as possible, end up being infinitely more interesting and likeable than someone who’s always perfect in every way.


Upon thinking about it, I agree with you. It is a more interesting plot when the characters have more consequences for their actions, as well as when they aren’t automatically the “good guys”.


In most cases, I find it easier to forgive a protagonist who recognizes their mistakes and tries to fix it. Which, in this case, Mr. Fox does. Even though I quibble with the decision to make him the one to blame for everything, it’s still nice to see him realize the error of his ways and fix things with his family and friends.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that’s what I find interesting about the book. It’s not necessarily a “good vs. evil” story. Mr. Fox is stealing food to feed his family so they can survive. The farmers are trying to kill Mr. Fox because they’re tired of him stealing food, which they need to survive themselves. It’s like a survival of the fittest situation.

That said, the movie does touch on these themes too. One of the things Mr. Fox owns up to towards the end is that, at the end of the day, he’s a wild animal. And when it comes down to it, every wild animal has an instinct to survive.

Wow…I’m surprised you still remember that. Then again, in that topic you mentioned that for whatever reason, you’d been tracking all the essay topics I posted, so…

Which brings me to something about the movie that’s kind of smart: Mr. Fox IS still a likeable character. He’s portrayed as a friendly, loving husband and father, and really resourceful too. Even with the addition of him making choices that come tumbling down, he really isn’t a “bad person.” He’s a good person who ended up making a bad choice.

And, in spite of my draws, I’d rather have that than a character who’s a total a-hole.


Oh yeah, your protagonist has to have some likeability or else they just become the villain of the film. My point was moreso likeability is not the sole key to making a good character, and flaws (ones that the movie clarifies are flaws and not personality traits) almost always enhance the character presented, but like with everything else, it is a double-edged sword.

Make your protagonist too flawed and the idea that they can accomplish anything will become far too unrealistic; too little flaws and cries of Mary Sue will arise over the hilltops.