Friday, April 30, 2010

A Twitch and a Spit

I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox the other night on DVD. Based on a children's book by Roald Dahl, the movie was nominated in two categories at this year's Oscars--Original Score and Animated Feature Film. Alas, it lost to the movie Up on both counts.

Here's a brief synopsis: The stylish Mr. Fox has retired from chicken thievery and is now a journalist and family man. Bored with his staid life, however, he decides to make a brief return to crime that will put him at odds with local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

I enjoyed the film once I got past the "normalness" of the characters. You'd think after watching the Nickelodeon channel with my grandchildren, I'd be used to seeing animals dressed in clothes and living human lives.

The one takeaway I received from this movie from a craft standpoint came from the title character's son, Ash. Poor little guy couldn't get any respect, not from his family or friends. A smallish fox, Ash tries to compete with the larger boys in his class, only to be shot down for his efforts. And when Dad decides to go back into the chicken stealing business, Ash's golden-child cousin gets to go along, but Ash is told he will only ruin the outing.

What I liked about this character was the body tags he used to show his displeasure. When he was told he couldn't do something, his ear would twitch, ever so slightly, and then he'd spit. This became a vehicle throughout the movie that I began to look forward to. The director of the film knew how to use it, because it got to where there would be a slight pause so that in my mind I'd be saying, "Wait for it..." and then the ear would twitch, Ash would spit, and I was delighted that I knew it was going to happen.

This is an excellent way to characterize. It works especially well for secondary characters who don't get as much on-air time as the main characters. But, as in everything, it must be done with a light touch. In Writer Land we often use the example of seasoning. Too much salt will spoil the menu, but just the right seasoning, and voila! Culinary delight.

Ash's role in Fantastic Mr. Fox provided just the right seasoning. Watch it for yourself to learn how to create body tags for your characters.

For a full list of nominees and winners at this year's Oscar ceremony, go to

Here is a link to some fun trivia on the movie from IMDb.

1 comment:

Sharry Warren said...

Hi Sis, We watched this movie last night (I never know what I'm going to watch until Neil turns on the TV) & I thought "where have I heard of this before?" Well on Facebook of course. There were some good moral lessons taught in it as well, just what you would expect from a children's book writer. The other, (did you call it body tag?) was Mr Fox's click click whistle. I've seen that before in another fictional character some place. Thanks for your review. Shari