Fantastic Mr. Fox

Certificate: PG
Running time: 87 mins
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
Genre: Animation, Family
Country: USA

In preparation for the return of Wes Anderson and The Grand Budapest Hotel we thought it might be nice to have a look back over a few of his cinematic offerings.  With that in mind, and throwing a devil may care attitude towards demands for chronology we take a look at Anderson’s big screen adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a thief, a conman and a maker of enemies everywhere there’s a farmer that is until he decides to retire and do something else.  Four human years later, happily married to Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and with child, Ash, he finds the old instincts taking over again and the undeniable attraction of life outside the law, but when he takes matters too far and his three main foes lay siege to his house what transpires is a high prize chess game of life and death.

I love Wes Anderson.  He’s an incredible director, with an amazing eye for detail and has a way of taking a narrative that one might know inside out and retelling it to you in such a way that it’s new, exciting, and invigorating.  What you get with a Wes Anderson helmed Roald Dahl adaptation is not necessarily the by-the-book narrative that fans of the story will expect but more a Kubrickian approach to adaptations.  Famously, the great Stanley had a system of reading the book due for adaptation once (without making notes) and then writing a first draft of the script; the logic being that the important details will stick while the rest will fall to the wayside.  This was the largest onion in the ointment for Stephen King when Kubrick took on (or was it took over?) The Shining and created a screen adaptation far superior to anything King has or will ever accomplish while he insists on creative control.  Much like Kubrick, Anderson has taken the essential elements of the Dahl fable and peppered the gaps with quintessential Wes moments which only add further evidence that we are watching a great modern day auteur at work.

The narrative for Fantastic Mr. Fox is a wonderful mix of traditional and modern-quirky but even the Andersonisms have the familiar sense of fun and adventure that Dahl always managed to infuse into his work.  The sculpting of the narrative arches in order to transforms FMF into a heist movie en par with The Hot Rock, Ocean’s 11 (1960 & 2001) and Out of Sight is phenomenal.  The best animated movies manage to craft a story that appeals to adults and children alike, yet what Anderson manages here is to sculpt a story that is not just compelling to multiple generations but is also funny to multiple generations at the same time for different reasons.  It’s truly beyond impressive. 

Visually the film is incredible.  The decision to forgo the sterile perfection of CGI for stop-motion animation stylings in not only admirable, it’s downright genius.  There’s a richness to Mr. Fox’s visual palette that is alluring, the attention to detail connotes a love in the creation of the project that invites the audience in.  It makes an emotional connection through it’s construction in the same way Dahl’s text and illustrations have and as such is an extension of the source material rather than a bastardisation.  Many of the techniques deployed in the movie have been evolved over the history of cinema, and come to fruition in Anderson’s skill set via earlier offerings, The Life Aquatic for example.  It is the stop-motion of Ray Harryhausen, of Jason and the Argonauts, of Clash of the Titans, and is a much more inclusive and welcoming visual signature than that of modern-day animation, much as we love Pixar.  It also bonds one generation to another.  Today’s children, quite possibly, have not seen animation of this style before.  To them this is an entirely new, groundbreaking, eye-opening method of storytelling which brings them full circle to be on a level of experience that was felt by the parents, grandparents the first time they encountered animations.

As you would expect from Wes Anderson, the cast is studded with star.  George Clooney gives a commanding vocal performance that’s a mix of Jack Foley (Out of Sight) and Ulysses Everett Magill (O Brother Where Art Thou?) which offers a blend of the traditional and the quirky that compliments the Wes Anderson approach to storytelling.  It’s a surprisingly emotive performance that carries several moments of heartfelt sorry, joy, excitement which will (no doubt) see him return to Planet Anderson at some point during the next few years.  Meryl Streep (as Mrs. Fox) is another newcomer to the Anderson family band and is almost unrecognisable.  Unfortunately for her, the film is called Fantastic Mr. Fox and as such there’s not a great deal for the Oscar Collector to really dig into and make her own.  She does, however, have great chemistry not just with Clooney but Schwartzman (Ash) who is incredible, off kilter and complex as ever…even without physical form.  Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon and Owen Wilson round out an army of familiar Anderson faces (or voices) and all help to construct the world of Mr. Fox.  

It truly is incredible how complete this animated land of chicken heists and psychotic farmer’s actually is.  Credit is required for all involved in helping to layer this multi-faceted land to a degree that most live action movies would fail to accomplish.  Put simply, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film that no other director working in cinema today could make.  It has an attention to detail, level of love and rounded sense of fun, mania and narrative depth that is rarely found in one piece of cinema and simultaneously a Wes Anderson film and a Roald Dahl legacy.


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