Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

I'm far from director Wes Anderson's biggest fan. Although I enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums (and to a lesser extent The Darjeeling Limited), in my opinion, most of his work seems to value style over, and sometimes at the cost of, substance.

Anderson's latest Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's book about a fox fighting his own nature to steal from the wealthy farmers Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon), and provide his family with what he feels they deserve.

And, I must admit, it's really, really good. In many ways the film is a perfect fit for Anderson and merge of its offbeat humor with his own. The stop-animation allows the director to play to his strenghts and design a a complete world. And as a book the story is naturally divided into the kinds of chapters Anderson enjoys breaking his film into (here he even provides titles for each).

And, perhaps most importantly, Dahl's humor and voice mesh very well with that of the director. Animated or not, this really is a Wes Anderson film, from beginning to end.

After surviving a trap twelve Fox years earlier Mr. Fox (George Clooney) has abandoned his life of crime, settled down with his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) and their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), and now spends his time writing a column for the local paper. The arrival of his nephew (Eric Chase Anderson), the move to a more luxurious home, and the yearnings for old times tempt the fox to doing what he does best.

Aside from a few small scenes in which characters move with all the grace of South Park regulars the stop animation fits perfectly with Anderson's eye for style. The more elaborate the action a scene calls for the more impressive it's rendered. Much like 9 from earlier this year (though Fox is the superior film) everything on screen looks tangible, as if you could reach in and grab it. The figures might be a little creepy (and more than a little reminiscent of the Taxidermist shop), but they certainly look solid and real (and in some cases far more real than some characters from Anderson's previous films).

I can't say enough about Clooney who, given his recent choices, is at the top of my list to see in anything. He's perfect as the sly yet egotistical Fox (a role not far removed from his character in O Brother, Where Art Thou?). And Anderson surrounds him with talented actors like Streep, Schwartzman, Gambon, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson.

I also was impressed with the film having a little fun with the idea of animal characters being, well, animals. Rather than just create a character who happens to be a fox, rat, or badger, each one here has definite characteristics, especially the Fox family. Although there's plenty hear for children I enjoyed these moments where the film spent a little time with bigger ideas about who a person is, the choices the make, and just how far someone can go to fight their own nature.

Funny, with a good moral but not preachy, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film for everyone. It's got adventure, furry animals, dramatic elements, impressive stop-animation, and more than a little humor as well. Go see it, I think you'll be glad you did.

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