Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox ***1/2

Director: Wes Anderson

Few working directors have such a recognizable visual style as Wes Anderson (if that is good or bad is another matter). In "Fantastic Mr. Fox" his first foray into animation (if you don't count the strange sea creatures from "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") he transports his unique aesthetics to a world populated by furry, anthropomorphic puppets.
Particularly Mr. Fox (George Clooney playing Danny Ocean) a former chicken thief who chose the right path and became a newspaperman after his wife Mrs. Felicity Fox (a sly Meryl Streep) became pregnant.
When his son Ash (a brilliant Jason Schwartzman) is twelve fox years old, Mr. Fox decides he's had enough of his quiet domestic life and sets to pull off one last heist.
He recruits Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) the superintendent opossum, and Felicity's athletic nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderon) to rob the farms of Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon).
The job goes as planned but the angry farmers retaliate and plan to get rid of Mr. Fox, his family and all the neighboring animals.
This forces the charming hero to make things right and solve the sort of existential -crises-hiding-behind-entertaining-facades that Anderson has become known for.
But "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is more than "The Royal Tenenbaums" in stop motion, based on Roald Dahl's novel, the movie actually digs deeper than Anderson ever reaches with live action.
It's as if this micro world was invented just for him as he populates it with an assortment of characters, quirks and details that are a pleasure to behold.
The puppets' little coats and accessories have textures that we could stare at for hours and the stilted way of some of their movements is a shocking contrast to the relentless need of CGI to imitate real life.
Watching this movie we're supposed to know we're watching something unreal, perhaps Anderson's actual intention was to have us wonder throughout the film "how did they do that?". This is an interesting proposition because it immediately forces us to experience the wonders of childhood where even thunder was a mystery (it might be no coincidence again that Mrs. Fox is obsessed with painting thunderstorms).
The film's surrealistic nature serves Anderson because he is finally able to explore the absurdities of his characters without the selfconsciousness of actors.
He's at such balance with the animation technique that we recognize several visual keys (like Kylie's insanely funny blank eyes) from his live action films, but if he went and gave the real Bill Murray (who voices a real estate Badger here) a furry coat, the result might be just weird.
Anderson's detachment from keeping an equilibrium between what we see and how we respond gives him the chance to create one of his greatest characters in the shape of Ash; a son trying to live up to what he thinks his father expects from him.
The droll characterization of Ash-who wears a weird cape and underwear that makes his father think he's "different"-offers enough fantasy and truthfulness to make us laugh while blushing because at some level we might recognize ourselves in him.
Forget about the zany dialogues (although Anderson and Noah Baumbach made a witty adaptation), the Jarvis Cocker cameo or the intricate production design, the real wonder in "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is that when we see a puppet shed a tear we too might be getting misty eyed.


Luke said...

Love the review! (Also, it seems like it's been ages since I've commented on your blog... what is with me?! :)

Anyway, when I saw this, I was so amazed by the little costumage and whatnot, that I much preferred the jarring movements to that of seamless CGI characters. Is it possible for this flick to get an Art Direction nod, because it probably should...

As for Anderson, I normally just can't get into his sort of self-indulgent movies, but this one was a lot more digestable. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

Dame James said...

I loved the look of Fantastic Mr. Fox and also kinda prefer this beautiful style of stop motion to CGI. Unfortunately, the comedic dialogue/situations felt a little too self-consciously funny and quirky for me to fully enjoy.

CMrok93 said...

There were moments that I felt like the film was a little bit too quirky to be very funny, but still a good Wes Anderson watch.