Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) - Underrated Gem from Wes Anderson

Fantastic Mr. Fox - It Has Bill Murray, so it Has That Going for It

Fantastic Mr. Fox
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009).
Based on a 1970 novel by famed children's book author , "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009) is much more Wes Anderson and than it is Dahl. This film will appeal to adults as well as the children at which it is aimed. Characters smoke, "cuss," and do all the things that real people do that generally don't turn up in children's animation. If you are familiar with Anderson's work, you know to expect a lot of dry comedy and weird juxtapositions, and that is exactly what you get in "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

Mr. Fox reading in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mr. Fox, Man of the World.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) like to raid farms in their spare time, but Fox's real job is as a newspaper columnist. After having a son, he decides to upgrade his family's living quarters from a hole in the ground to a tree despite warnings from his lawyer Badger (Bill Murray) that he is inviting danger. He also gives up his thieving ways for the sake of family stability. Fox's nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes to live with them, but Fox's son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) doesn't like Kristofferson because everyone dotes on him due to his excellence at sports.

Mr. Fox riding a motorcycle in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Just because you're a fox doesn't mean you can't have fun.
Fox eventually tires of dull "lawful" life, so he and his friend Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) take to stealing from the three farmers who live nearby: Walter Boggis (Robin Hurlstone); Nathan Bunce (Hugo Guinness); and Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon), or "Boggis, Bunce and Bean" as Fox calls them. The farmers set a trap for Fox and shoot at him, but he manages to escape at the cost of his tail. Frustrated, the farmers dig into Fox's home, but he escapes through an emergency tunnel.

Mr. Fox in work clothes in Fantastic Mr. Fox
The name's Fox... Mr. Fox.
Fox decides to strike back. He enlists his friends to dig a tunnel to the farms so they can steal from them easier. Ash and Kristofferson surface to recover Fox's tail, but Kristofferson is captured.

Mr. Fox turning around in front of his desk in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mr. Fox is proud of his study.
The fighting escalates. The farmers flood the animals' tunnels with cider, forcing Fox and friends into the sewers. Fox finds out where Kristofferson is being held and asks the farmer for a meeting. They agree to an exchange, but everybody double-crosses each other and Ash must prove he has matured in order to free Kristofferson.

Mr. and Mrs. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mrs. Fox is the Perfect Wife.
The interplay between the animals is witty and fun, and the stop-motion animation - 20th Century Fox's first - is superb. The colors are autumnal, all yellows, oranges, and browns, giving the film a very soft feel. They are earth tones, in accordance with the fact that our heroes live... underground.

Film poster for Fantastic Mr. Fox
Let's have a party... underground.
Three venerable tunes by Burl Ives were used. This is an obvious and much-appreciated nod to the seasonal stop-motion classic holiday special from Rankin/Bass, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," in which Burl Ives voiced the narrator, Sam the Snowman. There is some action, including a fight to the death, which might scare some younger viewers. The film strains somewhat to imbue Fox with a James Bond vibe (Dahl, incidentally, wrote the screenplay for the James Bond classic "You Only Live Twice"), but that is kind of a genial lampooning of the characters. Overall, this is a fairly, um, tame film about gentle animals who act tough but are actually pussycats at heart.

Mr. Fox and the Rat in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mr. Fox trying to work things out as an adult
The voice actors are all top-notch. Rather than have them record their lines in a studio, Anderson took them on location and had them approximate the situation of their characters in the film when the dialogue was spoken. Thus, some were spoken underground, other dialogue in closets, etc. I am absolutely certain that this amused Bill Murray to no end. It all gives the film a fresh, authentic feel that often is lacking in the cookie-cutter animation of other studios.

Wes Anderson adjusting character figures in Fantastic Mr. Fox
It must be wonderful to grow up, continue to play with your toys, and get paid for it
"Odd" is a word often used to describe Anderson films like "Fantastic Mr. Fox," but that is not necessarily bad. If you are tired of the current Pixar/DreamWorks/Amblin style of slick animation, which is polished to perfection and a bit too all-that at times, this film will serve as a great antidote. Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl make a great team. You should pick up a copy of "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

Below is the official trailer.


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