“If what I think is happening is happening, it better not be.”
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Roald Dahl (novel) Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach (screenplay)
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Shwartzman, Eric Anderson, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Michael Gambon
I’ve generally been pretty impressed with the advances in animation over the past decade and the digitally rendered worlds they are used to create have even offered up some truly inspired artists such as Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) and Pete Doctor (Up, Wall-E). However sometimes it becomes hard to ignore the sterility such technical perfection inadvertently causes. It’s the lack of the brush stroke, the human touch made invisible through technical achievement.
Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is chalk-full of bright, celebratory brush strokes and they give this wonderful film a personal glow warmer than any of its current digital peers. The story is about (surprise!) Mr. Fox (George Clooney), an expert chicken thief, turned journalist and family man (or fox). 12 fox years after hanging up his balaclava Fox, tempted by the stores of the fat, short and lean Boggis, Bunce and Bean decides to come out of retirement, a fact he wants to hide from his cautious wife, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep). However the Fox family is soon displaced when they find out that the loathesome farmers are not so easily trifled with. Also Fox’s son Ash (Jason Shwartzman) is having trouble adjusting to the arrival of a new Fox, cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) who seems to overshadow Ash in every way.
I won’t say much about the performances other than that they are terrific. George Clooney and Meryl Streep (duh) slip into their roles effortlessly, but it’s the smaller casting decisions that had me grinning like fool the whole movie. Wallace Wolodarsky’s plaintive tone is hilarious without even trying and Eric Anderson’s Kristofferson evoked for me a subtext I didn’t recognize was possible through voice acting. The usual Anderson gang is on display here too and they are no less wonderful. In voice recording for this film the actors actually went into similar locations to the characters in the film and the difference in sound when hearing something recorded (for example) underground creates a palpable and intimate experience.
Anderson’s work has often come under scrutiny for being overly “precious” in the details of his work. Here though, the loving attention to detail is welcomed by the vibrant DIY-style animation and softens the more ominous themes of the movie. On that note I wonder if children will respond to this film. The idea of a film about a Fox trying to reconcile his darker desires with his paternal duty seems to me like some pretty adult stuff and although there is a lot of fun to be had (“you cussin’ with me?”) I wonder if some of the themes may sail over the heads of the young audience. I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing. I think it’s a great idea for kids to be challenged and even educated through film as opposed to having pre-school ideas dogmatically reinforced in classic Disney fashion. In fact I think (I hope!) there will be some great discussions over the ideas of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Ideas not least of which are echoed in the amazing (and hilarious) wolf scene near the end of the film. What a great scene.
Wes Anderson, whether you buy his sweetly deadpan style or not, is a unique voice in contemporary cinema and, as Fox proves, an evolving one as well. What can I say, it’s…(sigh)…fantastic.
Fun Fact: Wally Wolodarsky has played “Wally Wolodarsky” in three Wes Anderson films!
Also: If you get a chance, read the book. It’s amazing.