Wes Anderson has truly outdone himself. While his last film was his most mature (The Darjeeling Limited), Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the Roald Dahl novel, is far more adult and crowd pleasing than anyone could possibly imagine, even with the use of stop-motion and a family-friendly orientation.
While Anderson’s films have also never been box office gold (his highest grossing, The Royal Tenenbaums, only pulled in $52 million) they have also suffered from a case of love them or hate them. While they mainly appeal to the art house crowd, they have always been favorites of mine. I hope that the times are changing for Mr. Anderson, although with an opening gross of only $6.9 million it looks like Fox Searchlight needs to find a better way to market this astounding achievement.
Not since the heyday of Aardman (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and the underrated Flushed Away) has a stop-motion feature film been so full of so many different things. While it does have its depictions of alcohol use, smoking, and slang curse words, (the word “cuss” is used with abundance) most of those things are used with such innocence the youngest members will hardly recognize them. Although, if your children are going to pick up any kind of curse word from watching movies, I can’t think of any cussin’ better.
Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) lives a mischievous life with a day job of killing and stealing chickens. One night while out with Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) they are caught in a trap where Mrs. Fox informs Mr. Fox that she is pregnant. The fake smile plastered upon Mr. Fox’s face will instantly delight and bowl you over with laughter and this is all within the opening few minutes. Mrs. Fox demands Mr. Fox to give up his dangerous job for the sake of their new family, which he obliges.
After raising their son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) whilst living inside the hole of an evergreen tree for a year (or 12 fox years), Mr. Fox finally decides to hatch his ultimate scheme. This plan Mr. Fox has been devising over the past year. It is a three-phase master plan devised to steal discreetly from the farmers who caught him. Earlier we see that the reason he chose their particular tree is only because it is right across from the farmers Boggis, a chicken farmer (voiced by Robin Hurlstone), Bunce, a duck and goose farmer (voiced by Hugo Guinness), and Bean, a turkey and apple farmer (voiced by Michael Gambon).
With the help of his seemingly only friend, Kylie (voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky) an opossum, Mr. Fox begins to exact his revenge, which goes pretty well at first only to wind up with Mr. Fox having his tail shot off. Bean wears Mr. Fox’s tail around his neck as a tie, much to Mr. Fox’s dismay. Bean has also hatched his own plan to dig out the Foxes from beneath their evergreen and possibly kill off all the local wildlife in the process. All the animals wind up going literally underground in escape and insist Mr. Fox find a way to get them all out of this “cluster-cuss.”
Everything from the beautifully detailed animation, clever song selections, and outstanding vocal choices come together for the most masterful animated film event of the year. If this is what Fox Searchlight has up their sleeve then Pixar better begin to seriously up the ante and not just in-house.
The beautiful script was written by director Anderson along with his friend, Noah Baumbauch (The Squid and the Whale and Anderson’s own The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). The two have packed so many one-liners and double entendres into such a compact runtime that it will take anyone tons of repeat viewings to catch every line of hilarious dialogue.
Then there is the cast. In addition to the likes of Clooney, Streep, Schwartzman, and Gambon, we also get some spectacular assistance with the side characters. Just to name some of the most recognizable and memorable actors we get Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox, and Adrien Brody. Also along for this witty romp are the likes of music video director (son of Francis Ford) Roman Coppola, Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and even Anderson himself (as a weasel).
When it comes time for a video release this will truly be a sight to behold on Blu-ray. However, if you are lucky enough to see this with digital projection there are tons of tiny details that you could nitpick for days on end. Whether it’s an amazing long take chock full of action or the many trains, planes, and automobiles that saunter through a scene or even just the fact that the film opens with the shot of a book cover which reads, “Now a Major Motion Picture” along the bottom, the filmmakers and animators have gone to quite another level of overload.
If anyone thought that Pixar was going to be taking home yet another Oscar with this summer’s Up, it appears that the tables have turned and hopefully this will walk away with the coveted naked gold man. As much as I absolutely adore Up (I happen to be listening to that film’s original score as I write this), I am 104% positive that the winner will indeed be Fantastic Mr. Fox. My apologies in advance to Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, along with Carl, Russel, Kevin and Dug, but Anderson and company have truly given us the animated family comedy event of the year.
Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight