Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox
“Boggis and Bunce and Bean, One short, one fat one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean.”
I remember when I first saw the promotional trailer for Fantastic Mr.Fox, I thought that it looked more like a Wes Anderson film than any other in his catalog of work – his aesthetic lends itself so perfectly to stylized, stop-motion animation. Now, having seen the film in it’s entirety, I can say without reservation that this film-making process was a great direction for him to take.
Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same title, the film introduces Mr. and Mrs. Fox (voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep) as they are stealing chickens from a local farmer. During a particularly sticky situation, Felicity Fox reveals that they are about to become parents and informs her husband that she doesn’t want to live a life of crime anymore. Mr. Fox acquiesces, forgoing his talent for thievery and becomes a newspaper man and father. After 12 fox years – two human years – the Fantastic Fox family upgrades from their fox-hole and moves into a lavish tree house with their surly, vertically challenged son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman.) They are soon joined by their nephew, Kristofferson, who has more in common with Mr. Fox than the desperate-to-please-his-father, Ash, and a one-sided rivalry plays into the story arc. It isn’t long before Mr. Fox is itching to get back to the life he knows and excels at, so soon he is hatching a plan to rob the local farmers – Boggis, Bunce and Bean, respectively – for their wares. What ensues is a classic heist film, resulting in a stand-off between the foxes and local animals and the three curmudgeonly, old farmers.
The set pieces are gorgeously, elaborately detailed – even in miniature – utilizing rich, autumnal colors of golden rod, orange, burnt sienna and russet. The puppets, their costumes and models are lusciously rendered by hand – making for a charming visual experience that has a timeless quality about it. Watching it, I couldn’t help but feel that this was a film that I could have seen during my childhood, and yet I felt it would also stand up for years and years to come. Tristan Oliver’s excellent cinematography added so much to the viewing experience. Deftly switching back and forth between simple looking shots (a marvelous digging sequence comes to mind, so cartoon-like in it’s execution) and some very sophisticated camera work (I was particularly delighted by what I shall refer to as the Rabid Beagle Cam POV shot that had me squeeing in my seat) the film features action sequences and more intimate, quiet shots – all of which melted my face. Wes Anderson’s vision and style add a layer of depth of the story by enhancing it (rather than distracting from it, like say in The Life Aquatic), the – forgive me – fantastical nature of the tale is made even more complex and transportive because of his complete commitment to creating this universe.
Many of the actors cast for voice talent have worked with Anderson before and their performances reflected a comfortable familiarity within the context of the material. I have to admit, I was initially a tad skeptical about casting George Clooney for the voice talent. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Mr. Clooney, but his voice is so distinctive, I was afraid it would be too distracting and take away from the movie. His voice is instantly recognizable, but because Fantasic Mr. Fox is a caper movie, his voice – immediately recalling his role in the Ocean films- actually works really well. It is also interesting to me that all of the sound and dialogue was shot on location – this brings such a verisimilitude to the film and it sounds incredible.
Though the animals wear clothing, attend school, make (badass) paintings and own homes and businesses, there is the ever present reminder – used to comedic effect – that they are indeed wild animals. Food is eaten with a messy, noisy gusto and arguments are resolved with snarling and alpha-style circling. The human farmers – Baggis, Bunce and Bean – can’t go without mention, they bring a menacing levity and genuine tension to the plate. The pacing of the story is steady and sometimes thrilling, and the characters within that narrative are thoughtfully developed and fleshed-out.
The geek in me would love to engage in a formal discussion of the cinematic merits of this film, but I am neglecting to mention something very important that is best explained as briefly and simply as possible:
Fantastic Mr. Fox is SO MUCH FUN!