Fantastic Mr. Fox

A Hole Worth Going Down

         
 

25 November 2009| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

The first reassurance of Fantastic Mr. Fox is that it is very much in the tone and spirit of filmmaker Wes Anderson’s other films. This is the coolest animated film of the year, one of the reasons it dazzles is the fact that stop-motion animation is so rare. But when stop-motion is done well it feels like the fanciest art form out there. Anderson isn’t going for fancy though (but he achieves it anyway with his impeccable craft), he’s going for hip. Some will find the hip dialogue too self-conscious and brassy, while some find it refreshingly mature and yet wonderful in its innocence.

Working with clean dolly shots and pans that must have been excruciatingly difficult to pull off, Anderson attains the same droll picture-frame exuberance that he brought off in “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” This time he is adapting a Roald Dahl’s 1970’s children’s book. Dahl was also the author behind “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It feels as if Anderson is in love with Roald Dahl and this story in particular. Mr. and Mrs. Fox are voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep, but you come out of it remembering the vocal intonation of Clooney’s more than Streep’s, and more than his co-stars Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray.

Clooney is as authoritative and in-charge of his character as, in say, “Up in the Air.” In the film, Mr. Fox is for a short period satisfied with his upscale condo, i.e., a hole in a stout tree. But restless, he soon has a problem with the greedy human world, and steals chickens from the local slaughterhouses which offend the industrial presidents. Now the humans want to demolish the fox community and take prisoners.

The tireless filmmaker in Anderson digs deep (literally in one eye-popping sequence) to up the ante on children’s films and gives his voice actors lots of Tenenbaum-esque dialogue that is never dumbed-down and yet accessible. Mr. Fox has a depressed kid named Ash (Schwartzman) who is constantly upstaged by a cousin named Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Ash, who could have been voiced by Luke Wilson if it wasn’t Schwartzman, wants to be a hero like his father, Kristofferson is naturally prompt in responding to heroism. Mrs. Fox harangues Mr. Fox for being too madcap and irresponsible. When asked why he has the compulsion to steal poultry Mr. Fox explains, “Because I’m a wild animal.”

You could get all caught up in checklisting the usual Wes Anderson motifs, but it’s the touches, the fancy touches, that brings delight to a very big-screen tale. Particularly beautiful are the orange skies (isn’t blue so normal?), the frizzy chemical smoke, and the textured hairs on the animals that bristle so lifelike. The climax is so Wallace and Gromit, but the ending resolution, inside a supermarket, is so… so… wow! How did Anderson pull off that scene with such grace and precision? There is impressive scope in that final shot.

87 Minutes. Rated PG.

ANIMATION / MILD & CHARMING / SUNDAY NIGHT DINNER AND A MOVIE

Film Cousins: “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968); “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971); “The Witches” (1990); “James and the Giant Peach” (1996).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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