Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Mini Film Review

This Thanksgiving weekend I saw the best animated film I've seen all year - Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Yes, that includes Up.  I liked the quirky Wes Anderson humor of Fantastic Mr. Fox better, and the stop motion animation you know is all hand-done, which makes it even more amazing.

This has been an interesting year with two unique directors of adult films, with Spike Jonze doing Where the Wild Things Are with live action puppets, and Wes Anderson's amazing tour de force here with Fox.  Anderson's off-beat style seems perfect for a Roald Dahl story.  This story was not one I'd read as a child, so I came in with no preconceived notions.  But the character of Mr. Fox, who schemes the perfect squab-nabbing job at the neighbor's farm is just dead-on perfect for George Clooney, almost reprising Danny Ocean of Ocean's Eleven.  I adored Clooney in this film with his trademark click and whistle.  Everyone is fantastic.  Meryl Streep doesn't have a lot to do as his wife, but of course she's great, as always.  Bill Murray is a lawyer badger, and the "Are you cussing with me?" scene in his office with Mr. Fox where they briefly turn into their wild animal selves just slayed me.

It's most of the regular cast of actors from other Wes Anderson films.  We've got Owen Wilson as a sports coach, but Jason Swartzman as Mr. Fox's son is so like every other offbeat character he's played.  The son who's just a little different, but doesn't know it, like Rushmore, my favorite Anderson film.  Really, Rushmore was the pinnacle for me of Wes Anderson films, and until Mr. Fox none of his other films have quite measured up to that greatness.  I enjoyed them, but not the wayI adore Rushmore and now Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The animation is just superb.  Listen to Wes Anderson's interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air to get some sense of the painstaking care that went into creating the fur-covered miniatures and stop motion animation.  The color palette is all browns and golds - autumnal colors - because Wes Anderson visited Dahl's writing hut in England at that season, and it's the setting for the book.  Wes Anderson said that animation like this, where he has control over absolutely every part of the look, including every sunset and cloud, is the closest a director can get to being God.  I loved the look of this film.  All that care was worth it.

The story is very fun, as Mr. Fox sort of has a mid-life crisis, going back to his youthful poultry stealing.  The chief mean farmer is voiced by Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), and it took me about half the film to realize that as he is so menacing sounding.  Willem Dafoe plays a Rat, one of Mr. Fox's nemesis.

Mr. Anderson, my hat's off to you. The movie was just a delight.  I give it 4 stars and an enthusiastic recommendation that you must run out and see it in a theater this holiday season.  It is a great film for the whole family.  Kids will love the basic story, and adults will love the subtle adult layers as well.  I adore the hand made feel of it, and I hope Wes Anderson does more family films.  His quirkiness works well in animation and children's stories, like Tim Burton works well for fantastical stories like Alice in Wonderland.

Here's a cool short featurette that shows some of what went into the film behind the scenes, including how they recorded the voices on location at a farm, instead of in a studio as is the case with most animated films:

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