Wednesday, February 03, 2010

 

Crazy like a director


By Edward Copeland
My first exposure to Wes Anderson were the great Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, films original and entertaining enough to make me think I had a new young filmmaker to look forward to. Then came the misfire The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou followed by the dreadful Darjeeling Limited and it began to look as if Anderson was repeating himself to very diminishing returns. With Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson goes in a completely unexpected direction and this delight may be the palate cleanser he and I both needed.


Based on a Roald Dahl book that I've never read, Fantastic Mr. Fox is an animated film, but not like the animation we've been conditioned to see of late. Not the multi-dimension, computer-designed Pixar magic, not the old-fashioned two-dimensional type pioneered by Disney or even the popular Japanese anime. Anderson has went back to an older style and chosen stop-motion animation and enlisted a class of top-notch voice talent and breakneck pacing to create something more than just a family film.

George Clooney voices the title role. Imagine Ocean's 11 retold where Danny Ocean is a fox, his crew is made up of woodland creatures and the objects of the heist isn't the loot of a casino but chickens and cider, and you get a general idea of the story of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

As the film opens, Mr. Fox and his bride (Meryl Streep) get caught as they try to steal some chickens. As they hang in a cage, Mrs. Fox reveals that she's with child. Fast forward to 12 years later where the Foxes are living the woodsy version of a suburban life with their insecure son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), jealous of an athletic visiting cousin (Eric Anderson). Unfortunately, Mr. Fox has that old itch. He tries to satisfy it by purchasing a larger tree home in a shady neighborhood that his friend Badger (Bill Murray) warns him against.

What's really eating at Mr. Fox is not where he lives, but how he lives. He misses the game. Stealing chickens from farmers is in his nature and he convinces his dense possum pal Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) to help him do, in the best of thieves' cliches, "one last job." It's actually three jobs and one thing Fox didn't count on was that one of the victimized farmers, a ruthless man named Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon), will do every thing short of nuclear war to get revenge.

In addition to the wonderful sets and characters with their meticulous detail, there also is a very nice instrumental score by Alexandre Desplat.

Stop-motion may be a pain-staking process, but at the pace Anderson moves the film along, it sure doesn't show. Fantastic Mr. Fox also proves to be the first time Anderson co-wrote a script with someone other than Owen Wilson (this time it's Noah Baumbach) that actually turns out to be a success. Fantastic Mr. Fox is just plain fun.


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Comments:
Hi Ed,
So great to have you back! Sorry to be off-topic, but I nominated you for a blogging award. Please feel free to play along or not, but one of the "rules" is letting folks know, and so...there you go! (: Hope you are doing well!
 
I adored The Darjeeling Limited! I thought it was so Wes Anderson and that was all it needed to be. It was no Royal Tenenbaums though.

The stop-motion in Mr. Fox was beautiful, though I think he failed to make a 'family film'. It's not really a criticism but I can't imagine a child enjoying this. I know I did though.

I'm trying to get my first blog off the ground, please take a look!
 
I disagree with you about Darjeeling, but I do think you are right about Fox. I bet adults appreciate it more than kids. Good luck with the blog.
 
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