FANTASTIC MISTER FOX Review
"Uh, my dad's on fire..."
Fantastic Mr. Fox might just be one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. 2009 has really shaped up to be a year of daring big studio gambles. While some have been more successful than others, it's pretty amazing that we've seen mega budget adaptations of The Watchmen while iconic children novels have been left in the hands of outsider auteurs.
I'll shamefully admit that I'm completely unfamiliar with Ronald Dahl's original book so it's difficult for me to make comparisons, but I assume that Wes Anderson's script shares few similarities. This is an Anderson film through and through and about as child friendly as Where the Wild Things Are. But there's a glaring difference, this is fun and entertaining.
Anderson's films tend to polarize audiences. If you're a fan of his previous work, you'll assuredly be a fan of this. If you've grown tired of his retro, hipster, ironic schtick, you'll be moaning the whole way through.
I still believe Bottle Rocket is Anderson's best film, it remains his most personal and heartfelt picture. Since he's developed and trademarked his visual style, his obsessive attention to detail and colorful art direction tends to outweigh the story. He's too willing to give his fans exactly what they expect. Much like Tim Burton, the very things that turned Anderson in the type of auteur that film students aspire to become have also become a crutch.
Still, Anderson's storybook compositions lend themselves perfectly to animation, his deadpan direction, not so much.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is an odd beast. Many of you have probably read the controversial article in Variety a few months back citing the crew and D.P.'s bitterness and animosity towards Anderson's overbearing restrictions and absence from set.
The film is a visual feast and the hand-made, purposefully amateur(ish) stop motion animation is intriguing and unique. Yet, this is a dialogue heavy film where all of the humor is based on expert timing and subtle facial expressions. As beautiful and endearing as the puppets are, they lack the facial and physical complexity to match the actors' line delivery.
But there are plenty of amazing animated adult features from the 70's with dramatic acting paired to low-fi animation and that's the thing. The film really feels like the product of entirely different era. It's an interesting dynamic.
There was a brief interview with actor Jason Schwartzman after the film and while he and other actors visited the set, they never saw any of the animations before or during line readings.
Often in animation, actors are either brought in to dub their voices in a sound room after the shooting has completed and they cite their lines while watching the animation play in front of them or vice versa. The animators are given video performances of the cast to draw from.
Neither happened in the case of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Schwartzman told the audience via live Ichat that Wes had the entire cast act scenes out on physical locations similar to the script. Supposedly, there may be extras on the DVD of Jason, Bill Murray, and Meryl Streep digging holes by a real tree on a farm while reading their lines.
In many scenes, there's an obvious divide between the actors' performances and their puppet avatars and it becomes distracting at times. There are scenes where it matches and works terrifically, but it's a bit of a mixed bag.
Also, I can't figure out what the overall message is. Being unfamiliar with the book, I'm not sure if they're similar.
The story revolves around Mr. Fox, his wife, son, and nephew. Mr. Fox is a thief. When he is almost killed with his pregnant wife after getting caught taking chickens, he takes a 12 fox year hiatus from a life of crime.
But when Mr. Fox begins stealing again from three local business owners, he starts a war. The majority of the film is about Mr. Fox and his family being violently hunted down by the three business owners.
In his big epiphany, Mr. Fox claims that stealing is part of his nature, he is a wild animal after all and that's what separates him from the human world.
In the end, Mr. Fox and the other animals are unable to completely escape the businessmen they stole from and are forced to live in the sewers where they'll presumably spend the rest of their lives. But they find a tunnel that leads to a large supermarket that closes early on the weekends and they celebrate knowing they'll be able to steal their food there from now on.
Yeah, seriously, that's the fucking ending. Was that the ending of the book? Is this a children's film at all? Essentially, it's an anarchist tale. Hey, they're criminals at heart, why hide it. Fuck the system.
The characters drink and smoke and often use the word "cuss" to replace "fuck." Characters say things such as "This is a major cluster cuss", "stop cussing with my head," "you cussing me?"
It's cute and clever but also kind of shocking. There's also some fairly intense violence. Mr. Fox actually murders a fellow animal character who goes at his wife with a switchblade. But maybe that was in the book, most children's books are probably darker than we actually remember.
I personally don't believe the film is totally inappropriate for children, but I'm not sure if they'll fully enjoy it either. While it's beautiful to look at, the dry witty banter is sure to go over their heads.
Still, if you're not automatically turned off by Anderson's specific breed of cinema and have any interest in seeing this, it is most definitely worth your hard earned money to experience on the big screen.
Oh, and chaos reigns!
Fantastic Mr. Fox
- Wes Anderson
- Roald Dahl (novel)
- Wes Anderson (screenplay)
- Noah Baumbach (screenplay)
- George Clooney
- Meryl Streep
- Jason Schwartzman
- Bill Murray