“Fantastic Mr. Fox, and other heroes”

Martin Stack (my co-conspirator at the University of Shiga Prefecture), Shiho Matsumi (one of our brilliant students) and I will be presenting “Fantastic Mr. Fox, and other heroes” at the national convention of the Association for Teaching English through Movies (Kyoto Women’s University, 7th August 2015).

The keynote presentation at the convention will be “Bi-language Simultaneous Learning with the Aid of Movies” by Professor Takahiro Ono, a longtime friend of the legendary Noam Chomsky. We’re also really looking forward to “Character Speech in the Movies: A Sound Design Perspective” by our Shiga neighbour, the amazing Dr Carl Boland.


“Fantastic Mr. Fox, and other heroes”

In 1949 Joseph Campbell published “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, in which he aimed to “uncover some of the truths disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology by bringing together a multitude of not-too-difficult examples and letting the ancient meaning become apparent of itself. The old teachers knew what they were saying.” Campbell identified the fundamental stages in “the adventure of the hero”, and his work has been a huge influence on story-tellers – and movie-makers in particular – ever since.

In this presentation we will explain why we think the Hero’s Journey is a powerful model for the adventure of learning a foreign language. We will also explain how, with very kind support from the writer, director and producer Wes Anderson, we have gone about applying it.

We are involved in two projects that use movies and games as way to develop a range of “21st-century skills”. One of these projects is SkypeRead, which brings non-native speakers from all over the world together, via Skype, to do read-throughs of movie scripts; the other is the WoW-EPIC, which takes students into the language-rich world of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (see “Developing Language and Cross-Cultural Communication Skills via Movie Read-Throughs and MMORPGs”, ATEM Journal, Vol 20).

This year we have re-designed these projects around the framework of the Hero’s Journey, using a 12-point cycle that begins and ends in “the ordinary world”, and crosses over into “the special world”. The 12 points of the cycle are: status quo; call to and refusal of adventure; assistance; departure; trials; approach; crisis; treasure; result; return; new life; resolution.

We are also very fortunate to have received support from Wes Anderson, who has given us the script for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) to use as part of the project. Based on the Roald Dahl children’s story, this stop-motion animation movie takes a uniquely fun and thought-provoking approach to the Hero’s Journey.

FOX: Who am I, Kylie?
KYLIE: Who how? What, now?
FOX: Why a fox? Why not a horse or a beetle or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more like as existentialism, you know? Who am I, and how can a fox ever be happy without a — forgive the expression — chicken in its teeth?
KYLIE: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it sounds illegal.
FOX: Here, put this bandit hat on.


Published by Graham Jones

Astrophysicist and science communicator