Fantastic Mr. Fox (Review)
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Directed by Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson joins Spike Jonze in adapting a much beloved children’s literature in the same year. First Jonze delivered with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and now Anderson with his first madcap foray into animation, adapts Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Though it lacks the narrative ambition and emotional depth of Where the Wild Things Are, Anderson makes the brilliant decision of shooting the whole thing in beautifully old-fashioned stop-motion animation, while lending his usual trademarks to the children’s tale. Despite animated, it is recognizably a Wes Anderson film as any of his previous features. All the ingredients are present. Anderson introduces his familiar brand of family angst, a mix of poignancy and dry humor, a soundtrack of folk and early 60`s rock, and the usual deliberate visual style complete with vivid primary colors, methodical cinematography, 90 degree camera angles, parallel and perpendicular arrangement of forms, frequent use of quick pans, and even his preferred font used in both the opening credits, and chapter titles.
The animation is superb and Fantastic Mr. Fox represents a prime example of what can be done with this painstaking, old-school format (the same technique used for the original King Kong and Wallace and Gromit). This stop-motion escapade is alive with texture, beautifully colored and overstuffed with ingenious visual effects and brilliant sight gags.
The film has a three-dimensional quality, and Anderson is like a puppet master paying meticulous attention to visual detail and leaving a grand sense of movement and depth.
Your eyes will never stop roaming the screen and it quickly becomes clear that Dahl’s edgy storytelling fits well with Anderson’s inherent worldview and visual style.
George Clooney plays the second talking-fox to appear in a major motion picture this year, after Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. Star voice casts can be more distracting than helpful, but Clooney pulls of some of his best work as the titular character, a sly, aging, bold, charming and incorrigible thief. He’s also a family man, who writes the society column for the local newspaper, worries about moving into a classier part of the forest and struggles to do right while entering into a midlife crisis. He feels the need to pull “one last job,” raiding the coops of local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. It’s no surprise that the story melds the Ocean’s Eleven heist action with the redemption of an aging criminal.
The rest of the cast is effective and the decision to record the voice actors together on a farm in Connecticut instead of in isolated sound booths provides the film with a lively distinct sound. Streep helps bring out the best of every character and helps deepen the story while remaining effectively subtle. Swartzman is particularly good as the klutzy and whiny Ash, who feels rejected by his father and quickly becomes jealous of his more athletic and charming visiting nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Anderson “regulars” Owen Wilson and Bill Murray provide comedic flourishes as attorney Badger and Ash’s discouragement-dispensing coach and Willem Dafoe delivers in the film’s highlight reel; a lightning sharp West Side Story rumble between his character the dastardly Rat and Mr. Fox.
Although the movie doesn’t end the same way the book does, (Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach reportedly decided on an alternative ending devised by Dahl that didn’t make it into print), Fantastic Mr. Fox is a warm and charming film about family, adolescence, adventure that nevertheless stays faithful to the spirit of the source material.
In its glorious and barreling 87 minutes, Anderson and Baumbach, have taken the gist of Dahl’s book and carefully expanded it into everything you would expect it to be. Whimsical, not quite tongue-in-cheek and very self-aware.
– Ricky D