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Reeling: Fantastic Mr. Fox

November 29, 2009

It occurred to me while watching Fantastic Mr. Fox that all of Wes Anderson’s movies are really cartoons at heart.

After all, not many film directors have patented a style as instantly recognizable as Anderson’s. Like Warhol owns pop-culture triptychs or Joanna Newsom any song with a harp, Anderson has essentially monopolized the market on bobo anti-hero coming of age stories. These tales are almost all eccentric caricatures of life, wielding flights of fancy and whimsical humour in order to comment about our quainter existential questions.

It makes perfect sense then that when Anderson finally made an animated film, the results would be so Schultz-ifiably perfect.

A re-imagining of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, Mr. Fox succeeds in large part because its reverential treatment of the source material includes a healthy dose of irreverence. Unlike previous Dahl tales (Matilda, James and the Giant Peach and to a lesser extent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Anderson chose not to cater the movie to children as much as he caters it to Dahl.

Expanding the penned book into the full fantasy Dahl might have imagined in his adult head, Anderson manages to successfully craft a film with the essence of a children’s story but the shading of adult characters.

George Clooney voices a Mr. Fox painted with his fair share of moral ambiguity; including a mid-life crisis and typical Andersonion dysfunctional family problems. Clooney is pitch perfect in the role, lending some meta-gravitas when Mr. Fox waxes philosophical about his leading-man-like insecurities: “For some reason I just want everyone to be impressed by me, and it bothers me when they aren’t.”

Meryl Streep matches Clooney frame for frame as Mrs. Fox (who apparently is named Felicity), delivering lines like “I love you, but I never should have married you,” with enough earnest that it sounds both romantic and forgivably wise. Also, did I mention that line is delivered in the middle of a movie about a children’s novel? Yet it doesn’t feel a millimetre out of place.

For all this recognizable Anderson idiosyncrasy (and more, including awkward: relationships, scheming, romance, dialogue and a soundtrack assembled from a wall of vinyl) the story is surprisingly loyal to Dahl’s original.

Although the ending is different — based on the authors extended original manuscript instead of the final published version — the movie manages to stretch out to a comfortable 87 minutes with only minimal stagnation during the last half-hour.

Adding to the motif of perfect imperfection is the stop-motion animation itself. Instead of a glossy cartoon, there is something about seeing real furry puppets wearing real corduroy suit jackets, dealing with real issues such as feeling chained by a job you hate that makes juxtaposition with childlike conventions all the more effective.

Nuances such as the way the animals eat (like animals), or the way the characters dig (like cartoons), make it all the more poignant when the inevitable happy ending comes. (Incredibly, this happens when Mr. Fox essentially learns to accept his own anthropomorphizing. There are layers to this film. Like an onion).

Fantastic Mr. Fox features all the awkward charm of Wes Anderson’s best work; all the lovely music and all the quirky humour, with non of the actual oddity of watching humans behave that way. It also retells a classic tale with faithfulness to not just story but to soul.

There’s no reason not to see this film, no matter what age you are. For fans of the original book and newcomers alike, Fantastic Mr. Fox will leave you drowning in your own smiles.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2009 2:20 pm

    I was kind of avoiding this film due to being totally Wes Andersoned-out. With all his imitators, it feels like I watch 10 of these films a year and even though I don’t enjoy them much at all (not since Tanenbaums) each of them nonetheless reminds me how much I feel is missing in life and not only that, that everyone feels this way and I’m really just one of a selfish generation rather than a unique beautiful snowflake and all that. And then I get worried that maybe I AM the only one who relates and everyone else just likes the films for the jokey jokes, and then I get all self-conscious and shit. (*sends email to therapist*) But OK, now I’m curious. Oh and the sentence “a soundtrack made from a wall of vinyl” makes me jealous of you, just thought you should know.

  2. jessekg permalink*
    November 30, 2009 5:24 pm

    I dont know. I really liked the Life Aquatic. More so than Tanenbaums. I was also avoiding this movie though, just cus the whole, you know, f’n puppet thing. This, along with tons of other solid reviews, are making me rethink it though.

  3. Simon permalink*
    November 30, 2009 6:14 pm

    I totally agree with the being wary of enjoying Wes Anderson movies. As I alluded to, he’s become so distinct that saying you like Wes Anderson movies kind of pigeonholes you as a human being, just like saying you like Devendra Banhart or the fried tofu at Fresh.

    Still, the animated medium seems to soften a lot of the pretentiousness, basically to levels where normal humans can enjoy it.

    And Jesse, I too enjoyed The Life Aquatic, if not only because I’ve always really wanted a red toque.

    • dave permalink
      December 2, 2009 12:45 pm

      If you lived at Saugeen, you would have gotten one for free. But it would still say Saugeen on it and not… nothing.

  4. Vivian permalink
    December 6, 2009 10:05 am

    I loved the movie too. I went home after the movie and scoured the internet for anything Mr. Fox related and found some making of videos. I was impressed and inspired at Wes Anderson’s process; he went to such great lengths to stay true to the book and the author that even Roald Dahl’s wife cried when she saw the set-it was like he was there collaborating with Wes. Wes was so involved with the music too; he told Jarvis Cocker specifically which instruments should go in which song. I’m slowly going to watch and re-watch all his movies now; just watched Bottle Rocket last night!

    • Anupa permalink*
      December 7, 2009 5:30 pm

      Jarvis Cocker is a brilliant, brilliant musician.

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