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Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

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If, like me, you’re tired of animation being viewed merely as a children’s medium, thank your lucky stars for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is as delightfully odd and quirky as any of his live action films. Anderson’s films have always reveled in picture book mannerisms and cartoonish action, so it should come as no surprise that the transition to animation is effortless. What is surprising is just how deeply affecting it can be.

Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is just as much a cad as Royal Tenenbaum, the incredibly patient Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) his Ethel. They’re not separated like Royal and Ethel, but when Mrs. Fox says soberly, “I love you, but I shouldn’t have married you,” it’s not hard to tell something’s wrong.

Mr. Fox used to be a professional chicken thief, but got out of the game when Mrs. Fox became pregnant with their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman). However, he can’t resist the lure of one more job, stealing from mega-farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (one fat, one short, one lean). Going against the advice of his lawyer Badger (Bill Murray), Mr. Fox jeopardizes the safety of the entire forest by taking them on.

It takes a certain kind of temperament to adapt Roald Dahl. It’s easy to get it wrong; just look at Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or The Witches for examples of films that simply fail to capture the charm and strangeness of the source material. But like Tim Burton before him, Wes Anderson seems perfectly tuned to Dahl’s wavelength, with his bizarre filmmaking tics, lyrical dialogue, and loving irony.

Take, for example, the movie’s first scene. It opens with the rhyme about Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, then proceeds to slide through a variety of gorgeous hand-crafted sets as Mr. and Mrs. Fox run, leap, and crawl around various obstacles, the Beach Boys backing them all the while. If you had any reservations about the movie, that’s enough to throw them out the window. From there on out, Anderson keeps a firm hand on the picture, never steering it in the wrong direction. It all feels like something out of Dahl, even when Anderson goes in his own direction.

It’s not afraid to tackle the same difficult questions about death and self-worth recurrent in Anderson's films, either. Once Boggis, Bunce, and Bean start hunting Mr. Fox, all the animals are in very real danger of dying, and there’s a beautiful scene where, following the death of one character, Mr. Fox reflects on the path his life’s taken. Up too pondered questions of death, a sign that mainstream American animation is finally starting to take a cue from Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki and allowing itself to have mature thoughts on important subjects without sacrificing the fun and entertainment.

Because Fantastic Mr. Fox is a lot of fun. Wes Anderson has the ability to make me giddy like few other filmmakers, and he does just that with a bulldozer scene set to the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” or the brilliant climactic chase sequences, which rival just about anything flesh-and-blood actors have done this year in terms of joy and excitement. The stop-motion animation has a lot to do with that, as it feels real and tangible in a way that most CGI doesn’t. Mr. Fox and his furry band of men (and women) bristle with lifelike fur and move in herky-jerky motions that are as endearing as those in the original King Kong.

The cast brings a lot of energy to the proceedings as well. George Clooney proves once again that there are few people on the planet as charming as he is; even as a fox, the dude oozes charisma. You can understand why Meryl Streep puts up with all of his crazy antics, even as she knows she shouldn’t. Michael Gambon brings real menace to tall drink of evil Mr. Bean, in the way that only someone with a booming British voice like his can. Anderson’s regular players are just as good: Wally Wolodarsky and Eric Anderson (Wes’ brother), who until now have only had bit parts in his movies, get to shine as tree landlord Kylie and preternaturally gifted athlete Kristofferson, respectively. Jason Schwartzman brings the same kind of minimalist jealousy and self-loathing to Ash, who feels overshadowed by everyone’s admiration for Kristofferson, that he does to his HBO series Bored to Death. And one can never forget Bill Murray, who here gives what has to be his most unrestrained performance in years.

It’s nice to know that there are kinda-sorta mainstream filmmakers like Wes Anderson who are willing to stick to their vision no matter the project, because Fantastic Mr. Fox is the most unusual treat in some time. You’d never mistake it for a kiddie flick, but it’s also an unmistakably Anderson picture suitable for the whole family (and I do mean the whole family), which is a first. In a year with several wonderful animated films, Fantastic Mr. Fox is the most fantastic.

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About Arlo J. Wiley

  • Sshelly

    Lucy Dahl stated in a recent interview that he would have hated all of the recent adaptations including Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and Tim Burton and the Chocolate Factory as he had a specific vision that no director could live up to as they had their own vision.

    Since Burton imposes so much of his style, themes, and characterizations on Dahl’s book, more than any other director, we can only assume he would have despised it. At least Mel Stuart was objective in his directing, he imposed no style on the film. It’s purely realistic.

    You can actually tell which parts Dahl wrote in the original film, the classrooms scenes are very Dahl. The original film is very ironic and dry, the only thing changed from Dahl’s original draft were Wonka’s quotes and an addition of the Slugworth plot twist which is actually relevant to the story. Unlike daddy issues…

  • Sshelly

    Because your spreading false information without any evidence to back it up.

    How is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory closer to the book?? We’re just supposed to take your word for it?

    And what about Fantastic Mr Fox? Not one comment to back up what your saying. If it’s closer in style to your interpretation, kudos to you, but stop exclaiming it like it’s a fact.

  • Arlo J. Wiley

    Bully for Wes Anderson. Dahl hated the movie.

  • Sshelly

    By the way, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of Wes Anderson’s favorite Dahl adaptations.

  • Arlo J. Wiley

    Thank you for taking one stray comment I made and extrapolating from that that I “suck at reviewing.” Thank you for ignoring the actual review itself. And after all of that, thanks for inexplicably agreeing with my opinion on the actual film.

  • Sshelly

    The Witches was made for kids and is a bad example, I’d argue that it’s a decent adaptation mainly because the themes are all present and the characterizations are spot on. The one problem is that it’s just not a very well presented film. Does that mean it’s an improper adaption? It’s a hell of a lot better than Tim Burton and the Chocolate Factory.

  • Sshelly

    You suck at reviewing, first of all Tim Burton just made Tim Burton world…yea.

    Which is neither strange or eccentric. It’s sadistic and goofy, Dahl was not a sadist, he was ironic.

    I don’t recall Wonka having daddy issues in the book.

    Don’t even get me started on Depp’s failed attempt at Wonka who is described as magical with sparkling eyes.

    The original film actually forms some sort of magic, the newer one ends up being a miserable experience because Depp is so miserable and self loathing. The new film contradicts all of Dahl’s themes of searching for the good adults in the world. Wonka forgives his dad despite the cruelty he suffered from him. The only thing Burton’s film follows closer would be the linear plot of the factory, he takes great liberties with the beginning (steals the opening sequence from the original…) and HUGE liberties that drastically change he story in the newer version.

    I agree btw about Wes Anderson, I thought he did a lovely job. Why? because he was more objective about the book than burton. Burton’s version stands out and not in a good way, it’s because it’s just an average Tim Burton film. If you’ve seen Edward Scissorhands, you’ve seen his version of CATCF.