#11: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Director: Wes Anderson
Animated, Comedy
1h27min; PG

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2

A ’60s suburban aesthetic drips from Fantastic Mr. Fox as the last drops of a glass of cool, alcoholic cider roll into a thirsty mouth: Deliciously so. Roald Dahl’s children’s novel barely missed publication in the decade it is based on- a tumultuous period of teenage angst, Vietnam and The Beach Boys. One way or another these elements are captured beautifully in Wes Anderson’s stop-motion caper comedy, featuring the vocal performances of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and a score of Anderson regulars.

Fantastic Mr. Fox follows Clooney’s Foxey- an ex-chicken thief now a newspaper columnist and family man- as he looks into buying a new tree home for his family against the advice of his lawyer, the deadpan Badger (Bill Murray). Feeling poor, bored and out of place in life Foxey decides to return to his life of crime in a massive three part heist against the farms of Boggis, Bunce and Bean. This act of thievery sets off a chain of events in which the three farmers set about destroying the land in search of Foxey.

Despite the complete swan dive into stop-motion this is very much a Wes Anderson film. His trademark side-scrolling camera work along with a gorgeously limited color palette are on full display here, mostly in yellow and fall colors this time around. There is not a moment where you don’t wish to lick the screen and taste the visual beauty. Much of the film’s look was inspired by Dahl’s hometown of Great Missenden and if you look at photos of the village you can see that while this is a very American film with American actors it is set in a very English place.

That Anderson can get away with throwaway moments is a testament to how far in his career he has come.

The animal characters themselves are gorgeously realized as are the few prominent humans in the film. You can see the individual hairs on their anthropomorphic faces and even the minute facial expressions that changes with the flow of conversation. There is an audible gasper of a shot with Foxey and his wife in a sewer next to a waterfall that truly drives hammers home the question I repeated in my head dozens of times throughout: How the hell did Anderson pull this off?

Obsession, that’s what. Obsession drowns the film- literally, at times- and Anderson’s attention to detail is best exhibited in the meeting scenes between the farmers Boggins, Bunce and Bean. Bean, voiced with cool reserve by Michael Gambon- more like his crime boss in Layer Cake than Albus Dumbledore- loses his shit at one point in a hilariously beautiful fit of rage, tossing everything on the shelves in their trailer to the ground then running over to the other side of the room to do it again then running outside to throw a hippy songwriter’s bike off-screen. All of the objects he chucks are incredibly rendered and so are his facial expressions, contorting with each movement to present one of the most realistic stop-motion pictures ever made. To cap it all off every time he lights a cigarette in the dark it will take your breath away.

The Vietnam War echoes a bit in this film as it does in Dahl’s novel. The efforts of the farmers to blow the foxes out of their hole is all too reminiscent of America’s efforts to dig out the Vietnamese. Adolescent rebellion colors it as well, with Foxey’s son Ash (a ridiculously good Jason Schwartzman) and his taller, meditating, athletic karate enthusiast younger cousin Kristofferson Silverfox (Anderson’s brother Eric) not exactly protesting Foxey’s efforts but more willing to help in any way they can, especially at the cost of their young lives. There is a hint of feminism with Foxey’s wife Felicity (a subdued Meryl Streep) putting it upon herself to paint a beautiful map of the enemy territory.

There is not a moment where you don’t wish to lick the screen and taste the visual beauty.

All of the voice acting is gangbusters, so much so that you can often picture the actors saying these things in real life. Clooney is as Clooney as he normally is and many of the Wes Anderson usuals are heard throughout. Bill Murray’s Badger is a standout (“Are you cussing with me?”) and so is Willem Dafoe’s Rat, a looney knife-wielder who protects Bean’s stash of alcoholic cider that “tastes like melted gold.” This is one of the funnier Anderson films, a rest stop between the Gene Hackman-humor of The Royal Tenebaums and the more serious family drama found in The Darjeeling Limited. Any time a character gets googly-eyed, and you’ll know what I mean, it made me burst with laughter.

The soundtrack in Fantastic Mr. Fox is spectacular, a mixture of original compositions by Anderson regular Alexander Desplat and ’60s classic from the Beach Boys to the Bobby Fuller Four. The show-stopper is a crazy campfire singalong with Jarvis Cocker as Bean’s right hand man Petey serenading us hilariously with the tale of the Fantastic Mr. Fox. The number of instruments on display is incredible and that Anderson put this bit in, probably just because, is amazing. That he can get away with these throwaway moments, like an amazing fist bump later on, is a testament to how far in his career he has come.

 

 

 

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