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Non-Review Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Fantastic Mr. Fox isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s decidedly quirkily a Wes Anderson film above all else – above being an animated or stop motion film or a Roald Dahl adaptation. There’s the same dialogue and awkward poses and eccentric misunderstood characters at its core. It’s decidedly retro and it won’t win any awards for visual innovation. But – somewhat fittingly for a movie with a moral about being yourself – it is very much its own movie. Still, the suggestion that this isn’t a movie for kids is a little disingenuous. There are, I reckon, a lot of children who will enjoy the movie’s style and story and beauty. However, there will be a quite a few who won’t. But I reckon the same will be true of an adults as well. This is a movie for Wes Anderson fans, of all ages – even those who have never seen a Wes Anderson film before in their lives. But it’s also a film for those who can appreciate cinema in all its forms and with all its different trappings and styles. Those looking for a conventional animated children’s tale, or particularly light entertainment, will likely leave disappointed – but those looking for something with a bit more soul than usual will be right at home.

He's a foxy fella..

I liked. I really liked it. And I don’t adore all of Anderson’s work. I loved Rushmore, but The Royal Tenenbaums left me cold. The characters are a bizarre mix of the sorts of characters who normally populate Anderson’s works with those you’d find in Dahl’s books. They’re insecure and unique in their own way, but also a little bit fantastic.

Don’t kid yourself – I doubt Dahl would have had it any other way. We tend to miss this when we reflect on our own childhood reading, but Dahl was every bit as subversive as Anderson is. Both Dahl and Anderson ask us to root for a fox killing hens, and ask us to accept that as part of their nature. The ‘be yourself’ moral, heavily and haphazardly to us by decades of children’s films is embraced, but with the acknowledgement that you might not be the best person. Fox advocates life as “a wild animal”, but brings his animal friends into grave danger through his irresponsible urges – he’s reckless and his actions are counterproductive. However, is it any better to ask him to be what he isn’t?

Anderson is surprisingly straight-up about the consequences of Fox’s actions. I don’t just mean in provoking the farmers through his activities, but also in showing Fox killing the chickens “with just one bite”. Of course there’s no blood and guts, but there’s no way that any children watching the film would be under any illusion about what Fox does. It’s a brave idea to run with in a family orientated film, and I wholeheartedly commend it.

I wouldn’t be surprised in the era we live in to hear of parents complaining about showing that aspect of the character, but I think they completely miss the point: to tell a child to be who they are and that they are inherently perfect creates a ridiculously unreal expectation, a feeling similar to that felt by Fox’s son Ash. Growing up with his father’s name and face everywhere – the stuff of legends – it’s not too difficult to see where he became lost and why he became (gesture) “different”. There is no such thing as a perfect human being, and we all must eventually realise our faults and come to terms with them, rather than lying about them or avoiding them.

The stop motion animation is fantastic. It’s decidedly old fashioned (the fact that shades of gold are used helps), and I don’t think that too many young children will be impressed, but it is really beautiful. Anderson makes a conscious effort to shoot the puppets as if they were people. There’s no attempt to shoot them from a distance when talking – we’re generally staring at them right in the face. It’s an approach I haven’t really seen with puppets – directors are keen to stress the dynamism and movement of the characters – but it works. Fox arguably feels like more like a really character because we see him close up, talking – as well as moving and whistling and clicking (and, in one truly stunning shot, running through a field of hay – you probably have to see it).

I loved the performances. Clooney is perfect as Fox, all smarm and charm, perfectly convincing and sophisticated, but selfish and borderline egomaniacal (notice how he smoothly hijacks Badger’s toast). The supporting cast is pretty awesome, especially Michael Gambon as the farmer bean. “You wrote a bad song.” Also watch out for Willem Dafoe as a rat. I think he’s a continental European rat.

The artistic design is absolutely stunning. Anyone interested in this sort of animation (or any sort of animation) from a technical standpoint should look at this. I also enjoyed the soundtrack, the original score in particular – I’m glad it picked up an Oscar nomination. The script is sharp and witty – it’s packed with Anderson’s trademarks, but it is brilliantly funny at awkward little moments and in unexpected little ways. It can also be more than a little heartwarming – and it actually seems more sincere than most such tales, given how honest the film is about the flaws in its protagonist.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a rarity these days. It’s a family film that asks more of kids than to sit back and be wowwed by visual effects. It asks them to think about what their watching and to challenge assumptions and ideas. That and tell a nice, witty and engaging story. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s the most unique family film you will see this year.

And it’s more than a little fantastic.

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4 Responses

  1. I really liked The Fantastic Mr. Fox. My sister dragged me to go see a couple of months back, but was surprised at how much I liked it.

    • It’s a wonderfully charming little film. If you’d asked me if the indie stylings could work with a Roald Dahl book before I’d seen it, I would have said something akin to no way, but they turn out to be a perfect fit.

  2. I think this should’ve been marketed toward 20-somethings instead of kids. I was the youngest person in the theatre.

    • I wonder that myself – in fairness, I think how heavily it was sold as A Wes Anderson Film meant it was kinda skewed that way anyway, as it was almost advertised more as an Anderson film than as a Roald Dahl story. It’s not that I don’t think there’s stuff here for kids – there’s plenty – but that, as you said, twenty-somethings probably get a lot more out of it.

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