Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox ****
Directed By:
Wes Anderson.
Written By: Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach based on the book by Roald Dahl.
Starring: George Clooney (Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep (Mrs. Fox), Jason Schwartzman (Ash), Bill Murray (Badger), Wallace Wolodarsky (Kylie), Eric Chase Anderson (Kristofferson), Michael Gambon (Franklin Bean), Willem Dafoe (Rat), Owen Wilson (Coach Skip), Jarvis Cocker (Petey), Wes Anderson (Weasel), Karen Duffy (Linda Otter), Robin Hurlstone (Walter Boggis), Hugo Guinness (Nathan Bunce), Helen McCrory (Mrs. Bean), Roman Coppola (Squirrel Contractor), Juman Malouf (Agnes), Brian Cox (Action 12 Reporter), Adrien Brody (Field Mouse).

Just because Wes Anderson’s latest film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is a stop motion animated film, that doesn’t mean that it is any less of a Wes Anderson film. It has the same visual look - the exacting attention to detail in terms of its cinematography, art direction and costume design, the same musical fixations on the 1960s and the 1970s, and the same basic themes - about children’s disappointments in their parents - particularly their fathers. The audience I saw the film with was mostly made up of kids and their parents, who seemed confused by what they saw on screen. Like Spike Jonze’s recent Where the Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a kid’s movie that is more about families and their disappointments than really for children.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is the best thief in the area. There is not a farm that he cannot infiltrate and steal chickens, geese or whatever else he wants. But when he finds out that his girlfriend (Meryl Streep) is pregnant, and the two decide to get married, he agrees to give up his thieving ways. 12 Fox years later, their cub Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is on the cusp of adolescence, and Mr. Fox is bored with his new life as a newspaper man. He is also tired of living in a hole. So he purchases a tree and moves the family in. This is when Cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) comes to live with them as well, because his dad has “Double Pneumonia”. Mr. Fox takes an immediate liking to Kristofferson. He is athletic, just like he was, and unlike Ash, who fancies himself an athlete, but doesn’t have the talent. But the real action in the movie begins when Mr. Fox notices that his new house faces the three biggest farms in the area. The farms belong to Boggis, Bunce and Bean, three notoriously cruel farmers. Mr. Fox cannot help himself; he decides to rob all three farms with the help of his new friend, the dimwitted possum Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky). Of course, things do not work out like he planned they would.

The surface level of the film is brilliant. It has a distinctive look that marks it as different from even other stop motion animated films. The characters move with a jerkiness that fits their characters. When the wind blows, the hair on the animals ruffles. The characters all have their own unique ways of moving, and very specific character design. The film is full of color, and visual inventiveness. As with the other Wes Anderson films, the humor comes out of the details. I love Owen Wilson’s Coach trying to explain the extremely complicated game of Whack Bat, the details of the robbery schemes, and a throwaway moment when Mr. Fox and his crew sneak over to hide behind a motorcycle, and come out riding a miniature version of the exact same bike. The dialogue has many hilarious moments in it (I particularly love how they replace every bad word with “cuss”, as in “You cussing at me”). Brilliant.

Yet, as with all the other Anderson films, Fantastic Mr. Fox has an emotional underpinning that many people are going to overlook. Anderson’s films have always been praised for their visuals, but often times the pain and emotions in his films have been overlooked in critics rush to praise his exacting attention to detail. But the characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox belong to a family much like the others that have populated Anderson’s films. Ash resents his father, who is distant from him, and seems to like Kristofferson a lot more than he likes his own son. Mr. Fox is not unlike Royal Tenenbaum, from Anderson’s best film, as his is a lovable rogue (which makes Clooney perfect for the role, and he delivers one of the best performances of his career in the role). We like him, but we feel like perhaps we shouldn’t. He is not really a good father or husband, or at least he isn’t at the beginning of the movie. He does learn as he goes through though.

Fantastic Mr. Fox also contains some startling moments that we do not expect to see in an animated film that at least hopes to reach children. Rat (Willem Dafoe), is the one animal around that does not fall in line with Mr. Fox, and their encounters become increasingly tense, until they reach fatal levels. But the physical pain and violence in that scene is nothing compared to a scene between Mr. and Mrs. Fox, where she lashes out at him and tells him that she never should have married him, leaving him alone in front of a downfall of water in the films most memorable image.
This year has been full of movies aimed at children that have been more mature than most aimed at them. Not only Fantastic Mr. Fox and the aforementioned Where the Wild Things Are, but also Pixar’s Up. All of these films deal with more serious issues than most kids movie do. They treat children with respect, and think they are intelligent. Even if these films are not really appropriate for the youngest of viewers, older kids should like these movies. But even if they don’t, adults should. This is one of the best films of the year.

No comments:

Post a Comment