Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Review - Fantastic Mr Fox (book)

Fantastic Mr FoxI bought this book for two reasons:
1. I'd just seen a preview for the movie and thought it looked pretty funny and I liked the animation style
2. I've enjoyed the Roald Dahl books I've read previously

With regards to the movie influence, I haven't yet seen the movie. Based on the reviews I've read, it sounds like a fun little film but definitely a bit different than the book. Eventually I'd like to watch it.

As to the book itself, it was a very quick read overall although we did read it over the course of a week or so reading a chapter or two each night with the kids.

As with the other Dahl books I've read, this one is full of great writing and fun artwork. The kids made sure to remind me to show them the pictures on every page while I was reading and they really got after me if I forgot.

The characters were lovable and humorous. I loved the matter-of-fact nature of Mr. Fox as he works through the numerous problems that come his way. I really enjoyed the caricature-like portrayal of each of the three farmers that Mr. Fox must outfox. The other members of the fox family are great and I enjoyed the other animals we get to know as well.

The story itself is fairly simplistic and rolled out like an old animal fable from Aesop or others. As such, I think I expected it to take more of a moral high ground. At the same time, knowing it was Dahl, I should have expected the tongue-in-cheek nature that I found.

As the foxes were cornered in their burrow and desperately worked to escape, I enjoyed the dialogue between the family. It was well portrayed and felt fairly realistic. Once they finally had a semblance of safety, it was fun to watch Mr. Fox take charge and go forward with a new plan.

The main detractors for me took place in the last ~third of the book.

First, there is a point where Badger and Fox are talking about the morality of their actions…of stealing food from the farmers. The discussion was framed rather strangely especially considering the general nature of wildlife surrounding farms. While the discussion ended up concluding 'well-enough', I really would have preferred either a bit more elaboration from Fox, a bit more debate from Badger, or a general removal of this morality sequence.

Second, when Mr. Fox, his young Fox, and Mr. Badger end up in the cider house, it's pointed out that the cider is indeed alcoholic. Furthermore, all of the animals there (including the child) take a pull off the cider and revel in the wonderfulness of it. Later the cider is taken back home for a feast and there is more joy in its consumption. The alcoholic nature isn't played up exceedingly and I honestly don't think my kids picked up on it (or if they did, they didn't make a point of it…Jason just told Julia that "cider" was "apple juice" and they left it at that). Still, I see some concern portraying the wonderful nature of liquor in such a young, fable-like book.

Third, although we are to believe and understand the carnal nature of these carnivorous animals living among farmers…there is also the strange juxtaposition of a family of rabbits attending the feast. If the food supply was in danger, I can't imagine the rabbits surviving for the number of days that they did. This just felt like a strange inconsistency.

In the end, this was a very cute book with a fun cute little story and was an entertaining read. While it read like a Fable, I'm not exactly sure which direction we should look to find a clear moral. Obviously we are intended to relate with Mr. Fox and the other animals. The farmers are presented as particularly odious, vengeful and despicable. At the same time, we have the morality conversation between Badger and Fox that isn't clearly resolved and leaves question as to the morality of Fox's actions…which then presents some justification for the actions of the farmers.

On the plus side, this book is definitely geared towards young readers and as such I'm certainly overthinking the need for a moral. The kids enjoyed the story and saw Fox's victory over the farmers as inspiring and funny.

Which is just as it should be.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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