Monday, 30 May 2011

Director Of The Month Film Review: Wes Anderson - Fantastic Mr. Fox

Rating: 6/10 - Good
Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox was one of the first children’s books I ever got for Christmas. I loved the story of the wily fox who stole from the odious farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean, to feed his family and as it turns out, quite a number of other animals starving to death from the farmers’ meanness. Dahl’s stories are dark, the villains ooze nastiness, and the protagonist frequently ends up having to give up something in his or her quest.

Director: Wes Anderson. Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, based on the book by Roald Dahl. Producers: Wes Anderson, Allison Abbate and Scott Rudin. Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver: Editor: Andrew Weisblum. Score: Alexandre Desplat. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures. Starring (Voice Cast): George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson and Jarvis Cocker. Running Time: 88 Minutes.

Perhaps this is the problem with Wes Anderson’s 2009 interpretation of this children’s classic. George Clooney voices Mr Fox. He’s suave, sophisticated and sounds like he’s a few steps away from his Danny Ocean character from the Ocean’s series. Sure he’s a fox, and we all know that equals cunning, but there’s something sort of smooth about him that isn’t in keeping with the original darkness in the novel. He’s quirky – that Wes Anderson staple adjective – from the tip of his smart shoes to his whistling-click trademark. Furthermore, Wes Anderson has chosen to provide a bit of back story, introduce a few new characters and slap on the wisecracks. It feels like an American version. Cleaned up, sanitised, delivered up with a big bow on it. Even the villains are not too villainous.

So perhaps in order to enjoy this movie, don’t read the book, and if you have read the book, pretend that you haven’t.

With that out of the way, let me briefly run you through the synopsis. Mr Fox and Mrs Fox live under a tree. Mr Fox is a chicken thief, who promises to Mrs Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) that he’ll change his thieving ways and go back to journalism now that there’s a little fox on the way. Of course, he doesn’t, and the farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean declare war. The farmers lay siege, and confronted with starvation, Mr Fox begins a plan to tunnel into the three farms (visions of Chicken Run from the outside). Add into the mix a bit of drama with the young son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) and his cousin, the super fox Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson) who seems so much more the kind of son someone as fantastic as Mr Fox should have. Family dynamics, isn’t this what Anderson does best?

I’m not a Wes Anderson fan. Yes he’s supposedly witty and funny in an odd, idiosyncratic way, but sometimes I just don’t get it. That said, I enjoyed this film. There are some amusing scenes, notably with Fox and his lawyer Badger (voiced by the legendary Bill Murray), and the humour carried through some of the more violent aspects of this film. Rather than join the wonders of Pixar, Wes Anderson has shot the film in stop motion animation. It works. The art design is excellent, and the use of colour is particularly commendable. In fact, it’s the one thing that identifies this film as Wes Anderson, that and the Wes Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman (doing the quirky odd-guy role that he so excels at), Owen Wilson and Bill Murray lending to the voice talent.

Is it for kids? Not really. But isn’t that what makes the best animated movies?

Verdict: Enjoyable, but not necessarily fantastic.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

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