I’m not going to pretend I went into The Fantastic Mr. Fox with expectations in any feasible direction. I never read the classic book on which this film is based but had vague knowledge of the book’s existence as “one of the other books from the guy who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach”.
Next up comes the realization that the film adaptation was the result of director Wes Anderson’s creative vision; a style that, love it or hate it, is undeniably unique. With past films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, about the only common thread I could find was appearances by Bill Murray (and in that regard The Fantastic Mr. Fox continues the tradition).
This is the story of one Mr. Fox and the conflict within him between being a responsible family “man” and the chicken-stealing wild-ways of his past.
Despite making a promise to his wife that the life of thievery is a thing of the past, Mr. Fox decides, as part of his mid-life crisis, that he must try "just one more raid" on a trio of intolerant farmers (Boggis, Bunce and Bean). The sad reality with recovering addiction is that “just one more” easily becomes a returning lifestyle and Mr. Fox realizes this only after it’s too late.
And while the action serves as the catalyst to move the plot along, the core of this tale is satirical family life (personified through animals) of Mr. Fox (George Clooney) wife, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and visiting nephew Kristofferson Silverfox (Eric Chase Anderson). It is this dynamic that provides the film’s greatest charm by staying close to the moral lessons of the original tome coupled to Anderson’s trademark off-brand wit and style.
And in keeping with the Wes Anderson brand of style, the visuals, this one forgoes fancy Pixar/ DreamWorks-esque 3D computer animatics for traditional stop-motion technique. And not unlike Aardman’s works with Wallace and Gromit or Chicken Run, there is undeniable charm to be found in this method. Once the viewer adjusts to the intermittent rhythms and the scruffy (almost ultra-realistic) look of the model textures, the wit, beauty and emotional undercurrents contained here are stunningly apparent.
The pacing, heck even the themes and satire are undeniably adult oriented however. Does this mean foul language, sexual themes, or gore? Absolutely not. Anderson’s work is an all-age friendly class act all the way. However, it’s definitely still debatable as to just which age will make the most of the experience here. The visuals may be strong enough to keep the kiddies involved but it’s the sociological and family interrelationships that really define this piece.
Entire case studies have been conducted in effort of defining the various themes and underlying issues that author Roald Dahl confronted in his writing and many of these ideals transfer brilliantly into the film: Concepts like our inherent inability to ever fully let go of our youth or the battle between industrialism (represented here by the farmers) and nature.
The vocal work is spectacular as is expected from such a deep cast and the Alexandre Desplat soundtrack makes use of an excellently appropriate selection of pop music.
In all it’s tough to come away from this film without some appreciation of Anderson’s ability to combine the classic material with his own sensibilities. And while his past films may suggest this as a trait that can go either way, rest assured that Fantastic Mr. Fox retains the very best of what Wes Andersen has to offer: Intelligent wit, impeccable timing, and just enough homage to early-filmmaking techniques to be labeled charming.
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