Fantastic Mr. Fox, The
Rental with Snacks
Roald Dahl writes books of fantasy grounded in realism, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception. Wes Anderson is a director with a deadpan sense of absurdism and dysfunction. From them come this stop-motion animated film, a story of civilized wild animals trying to get their piece of the pie and vex three horrible local farmers, and possibly wrestling with their wild nature. Anderson’s style is very unique and I respect his adherence to it, even though it’s generally not my cup of tea (see: Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic). Here, Anderson makes a children’s book grown-up with existential angst and marital friction and possibly darker underpinnings than Dahl may have intended. The existing classic story fortunately softens Anderson’s fetish for randomness and forces him to stay on track. It’s a nice balance. As one of my companions astutely noticed, Anderson’s kooky brand of humor just works better as a cartoon. I probably would have loved Life Aquatic if it had been animated.
George Clooney is surprisingly cast as the titular patriarch of his little fox family (with wife Meryl Streep, son Jason Schwartzman, and nephew Eric Chase Anderson). Clooney’s Fox is a former chicken thief who just wants one last score off the valley’s three hated farmers, headed by Michael Gambon, while his kid feels neglected and his nephew frets about his family being ill. It’s no Ocean’s 11, but sometimes it feels like Clooney is just rummaging in that bag of tricks. He does the whistling rogue like no one else, but earnest family man less so, especially disguised as a rail-thin fox in a suit and tie. The puppets are sweetly old-fashioned in design, but the odd character design limits their mouth movements. The eyes are great.
Needless to say, this “one last score” plan, despite flowing nearly obstacle free, snowballs into hyperbolic responses from the evil farmers, leading to an extended journey on the part of Fox and his companions, including his lawyer and his superintendent. Yes, the fox’s lawyer and superintendent. Anderson makes copious use of the huge cutaway sets that he employed so well in The Life Aquatic, but as soon as our heroes go underground, we have less rosy, sweet Dahl and more slouching, petulant Anderson. I never lost interest, but the film consistently started to drag just when the danger needed to seem more pressing. The sets are very pretty and the lighting in particular is amazing — the reality of the story is all in the lights and the eyes. The voice casting is good, but many of the voices are so iconic (Bill Murray, Clooney, Owen Wilson, Gambon) that it begins to distract somewhat from the content.
The climax is pretty over the top and funny — I wonder how much of it was Dahl and how much Hollywood. Despite looking like a children’s movie, I don’t think kids would like it very much. It’s long and full of grown-up concerns like mortgages and marital vows, but it does have some funny bits and sweet character moments. It was a nice ride, and definitely is now my favorite Anderson film, but I would recommend renting it at home, on an HD TV if possible for the lovely detail.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 11/13/09
Time in minutes 88
Director Wes Anderson
Studio 20th Century Fox