Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Lots and lots of “cusses.” Literally (they replaced every swear with “cuss” … even graffiti).

There’s only a few auteurs working in Hollywood nowadays – Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers among them. Wes Anderson may be the least known name in this group, but none has a more unique style of filmmaking. His movies (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, and Darjeeling Limited) often center on a youthful outsider trying to find a balance between being unique and being accepted and a poor father figure who must redeem himself. They almost always have a Rolling Stones tune, a bittersweet death, yellow sans serif texts, a dry (almost hidden) sense of humor, and idiosyncrasy and eccentricity around every turn.

It is said that directors like Truffaut, Bergman, Lucas, and Spielberg create the films that they would have liked to see as children. Well, none of the titles in Anderson’s bibliography lend themselves to this concept better than Fantastic Mr. Fox, inspired by a novel he loved dearly as a youngster.

The aforementioned likenesses of his films are once again at play here, in a film about a sly, self-centered fox (George Clooney) whose wife (Meryl Streep) insists he retire from thievery to become a poor newspaper columnist. One day he decides to have one last, ginormous hurrah – a heist that endangers every animal in their town (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Willem Dafoe provide some of the voices).

The youthful counterpart, and undoubtedly the best character in this charade, is the Fox offspring Ash (Jason Schwartzman). With rude sarcasm, neverending determination, empathetic struggles, and a great wardrobe (a cape and tube sock mask), Ash vies for the attention of his father, who succeeded at everything as a student, but his naturally athletic cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) is stealing all the attention. Kids will no doubt connect with poor Ash and get caught up in the extremely fun action, but most everything else is for older, sharper viewers.

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The entire thing goes down via stop-motion animation, and you’ve never seen it done quite like this. The whole look is charmingly flawed, as animal hairs move when they probably shouldn’t and much of the motion is jittery and stiff. But they chose this clunky medium deliberately (think of how hipsters cling to anything “retro”) and revived the decades-old animation process in a truly incredible way. The human characters look far better than anything Aardman has ever done, the “glowing” in-jokes are hilarious, and the use of cotton to make smoke explosions is absolutely mind-boggling.

Words can’t give creedence to the fantastic3richness of the color scheme and mise en scene (the arrangement of elements on screen). Anderson even goes so far as to frame his subjects in the lower third, just to tease our eyes to the clever and textured backgrounds. I was especially taken by a simple shot in the sewers in which Mr. Fox stands on a catwalk, silhouetted by the waterfall behind him. And though it was probably quite difficult, Anderson constructs a great variety of visuals: side-scrolling in tunnels and sewers to show individual rooms, following immediately behind Mr. Fox as he rushes through a wheat field, and pulling back via crane to show arson on the city streets or a vast supermarket.

Though this film draws inspiration from the Roald Dahl book of the same name, there’s no question it has the Anderson stamp on it. And it has obvious differences (namely the ending), with Anderson admitting to modeling Mr. Fox after Dahl himself (setting it in his home town and so forth) as a kind of homage.

Like all of Dahl’s works, Fantastic Mr. Fox has dark and somewhat scary moments that continually threaten the heroes, but it’s mostly one ongoing action sequence. In the typical movies of this sort the “heist” or “escape” is the climax of the film and lasts maybe 20 minutes. Here the action unfolds about halfway through, and never stops til the very end. And with one final jab at humor, we get the feeling that the heroes’ long struggle is about to repeat itself once again. Clever. Well that’s what we’ve come to expect from Wes Anderson.

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