Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Movie review: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Kids, adults, and Anderson-philes will all find plenty to love in Fantastic Mr. Fox, a feast for the eyes, heart, and mind.
I don't know what's gotten into the water, but now is apparently the time when quirky filmmakers have decided to make films based on beloved childhood books. In addition to Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, there was Where the Wild Things Are from Spike Jonze in October, both of which will be followed by a unique Alice in Wonderland next March with Tim Burton at the helm. What's next, Winnie the Pooh by the Coen Brothers? (Actually, that might be kind of cool...)
While the decision to turn to so-called "kids fare" might seem strange to some, it's been obvious from the first glimpses of these films that none of the directors are sacrificing an ounce of their style in order to appeal to a different set of moviegoers. Anderson, who's directed films such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Darjeeling Limited, is known for his quick, intelligent dialogue, use of bright colors, and slow, deliberate camera movements. It may come as no surprise, then, that he chose stop-motion animation in order to tell the tale of Fantastic Mr. Fox, as the technique is especially useful in that last aspect.
Based on the classic book by Roald Dahl, Fox uses enough of the book to seem familiar while also taking enough liberties to make it a Wes Anderson film. George Clooney voices Mr. Fox, who is addicted to stealing chickens and other consumables. He seems to be okay for a while after settling down with Felicity (Meryl Streep) and having a son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman). However, when their new home puts them within spitting distance of three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, their goods prove to be too enticing and he reverts back to his old ways, with a little help from his possum friend, Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky).
His thefts obviously don't sit too well with the farmers, especially Bean (Michael Gambon), and the trio uses their collective might to try and oust Mr. Fox from his home and kill him. Mr. Fox is forced to frantically dig out of his home, along with his family and friends, which also includes his lawyer, Badger (Bill Murray), and nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, aka Wes' brother). Mr. Fox must keep his clan one step ahead of the farmers or risk losing everything.
Stop-motion animation, usually the province of people like Henry Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas) or Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit), is a painstaking process that's not for the impatient type. The level of detail that is evident in Fantastic Mr. Fox shows that Anderson was fully committed to the technique. From ruffling fur to welling tears to flying dirt, every bit of animation is as breathtaking as the next. And even though the characters obviously reside in a fantasy world (much of it looks like it took place in the world's greatest toy box), Anderson is able to elicit strong emotions with just the twitch of an eyebrow or curling of a lip.
Both of those movements are used quite a bit with Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox's cocksure persona is matched perfectly with Clooney's mellifluous voice, giving the character a smoothness even when it's at odds with his actions. In fact, the familiarity of the voices (many of whom are Anderson regulars) makes the use of big name stars forgivable. Schwartzman and Murray are especially good, with Schwartzman lending the perpetually overlooked Ash a wry angst. Streep is fine as Felicity, but this is one of the few times in her career where her presence does not elevate the role.
Anderson, assisted by co-writer Noah Baumbach, shows off his quick wit throughout the film. Many of the lines are so fast, in fact, that it's a beat or two before you realize how truly funny they were. Anderson also does great work with the eyes of various characters, using spirals, stars, and asterisks in place of pupils to indicate how they're feeling. While he doesn't shy away from the story's darker elements, he injects enough humor to lessen the impact of those moments for younger viewers.
But all of this cleverness doesn't prevent the film from being Anderson's most accessible film by a long shot. Kids, adults, and Anderson-philes will all find plenty to love in Fantastic Mr. Fox, a feast for the eyes, heart, and mind.