This is going to be a rant, I can feel it coming on. The strange thing is it is a rant about a movie that I actually liked a fair amount; The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox was one of my favorite books as a kid, partly because Roald Dahl was a very talented writer and wrote the book in an interesting, original and engaging way. But mainly because of its moral lesson, or lack thereof. The only moral I can discern on retrospect is that if you are clever, sneaky, smart, you can find a way to bend the world to your will. Find a way to win. To be Fantastic. Not the standard moral lesson of a children’s book, then or now. And because of that lack of standard morality I responded very strongly to the book. I wanted to be different, I wanted to be fantastic.

Most of the time kid’s books were (and still are) for the parents, as in the kind of books the parents would want their kids to read. Which is why they are chock full of the lectures that a lot of kids really don’t want to hear. I mean, I was getting lectured all the time already; did I really need to voluntarily read more lectures? If not for books like The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Danny; The Champion of the World, and many of the early Gordon Korman books, I don’t think I would have become an avid reader. There were morals in those stories, but they weren’t the standard morals, or if they were they were hidden well enough to fade into the background.

The reason for the rant is the movie version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox subverted that lack of morals and laid down a strict moral foundation. Mr. Fox has to be taught the lesson in the movie that a desire to be fantastic will only lead to pain and misery for his family. That in being fantastic he will make his son feel less fantastic. That his wife will require him to give up being fantastic for her sake. He has to change who he is, who he wants to be, and how he sees himself in order to be a ‘good’ person. Slightly different moral lesson than the book’s.

How does that come about? How does one fall in love with a book to such a degree that you would want to spend years associated with that book (writing the screenplay, getting funding, directing the stop motion animation, working with the voice actors, editing and promotion) but not actually like or believe in the moral lesson of the book? They follow the book in so many respects that it is obvious there’s an affection there so why the need to change the moral? Was it pressure? I don’t think Wes Anderson gets that kind of pressure, at least not in terms of parental groups, focus groups and movie executives. Especially considering that many of the themes that are in the movie version are in many of his other movies.

Was it love of the words? Roald Dahl was incredible with words and I could see someone falling in love with the words while deriding the moral theme of the story. That makes sense to me, but is that, in fact, moral? You take someone else’s work to make a nearly opposite point? Almost as if you took Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and used it to make the point that unions are inherently evil. Why do that? And why would I applaud?

Take Spike Jonz’ Where the Wild Things Are, I liked that movie though I didn’t think it quite succeeded since the book is a kid’s book and I don’t think the movie is a kid’s movie, but at least it had the same underlying moral; sometimes you have to grow up. A more successful adaptation even though most of the movie is an extrapolation of the book and The Fantastic Mr. Fox takes whole chunks of the writing and uses it in the movie.

Basically, I liked The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I thought it was clever and the voice acting was good. I liked a lot of Wes Anderson’s frills. I enjoyed it. But at the end of the movie I was irritated and then I got grumpy and thought about it a little bit and realized what was wrong: I’m 35 years old, the movie shouldn’t appeal to my sensitivities now. It should appeal to the 8 year old me, the one who loved the book. The one who would have been dying to see the movie and watching the ad every time it came on TV. The one who would have liked the first half (but been a little bored, Anderson tends to move things along in a story slowly) but been absolutely mortified at the second half. 8 year old me would have ended up detesting the movie. Hating the lecture. Wanting it to come to an end. And the movie was supposed to be for him.

It wasn’t supposed to be for me.

This was much calmer than I intended it to be, not a rant really, more of a polite disagreement.

But rest assured the 8 year old me that still resides within is screaming at the top of his lungs and stomping up and down the stairs.