Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Title: The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Title: Wes Anderson

Writers: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach based on the childrens book by Roald Dahl

Starring (voices): George Clooney, Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe


Stop motion animation films are a special delight for me as a film fan. They have been with me since my early years, going as far back as my childhood when I would watch those holiday themed stop motion animation films like Mad Monster Party (1967) or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964). Not that I’m that old, but these little stop motion animation movies get replayed a lot on television for years and years. I think they still get some air time during the holidays. But one way or another, stop motion has always been there. Even in those films that mixed both live action and animation. Films like Ray Harryhausen’s famous sword and sandal flicks like Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981). Even well into the 80’s this technique was still being used in live action films to animate monsters and creatures like in Howard the Duck (1986) and Willow (1988). Robocop (1987) and its sequels did it a bit too.

Roald Dahls Book

But special mention has to go to those completely stop motion animated films. One of the earliest American stop motion animation feature length films goes as far back as 1954 with the film Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy. These films kept being produced, but not in large numbers. A lot of work had to go into making these animated wonders. And they were never released theatrically, most of the time, stop motion animated films were made as something to show on tv during the holidays. That all changed with A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). This film was the mother of the big budget theatrical live action animation film. Tim Burton conceived and produced it and Henry Selick directed it. After that film came out, it opened the doors to getting these big budget stop motion projects off the ground and getting theatrical releases. Across the years, they have been released to mostly successful box office results in films like Chicken Run (2000) Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the WereRabbit (2005) The Corpse Bride (2005) and most recently the unforgettable and visually dazzling Coraline (2009).

So here comes Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson’s take on the stop motion animation world. Anderson isn’t a rookie when it comes to using stop motion animation in his films. He used it to animate the strange underwater creatures seen in The Life Aquatic (2005). But Fantastic Mr. Fox is his first fully stop motion animated film. How was it?

The story follows the Mr. Fox and his family and friends as they try to survive in the harsh world. Mr. Fox brings food to the table by stealing from nearby farms. But soon the human farmers realize that it’s the foxes who are stealing from them, so, they device a plan to dig the Fox out of its hole. Can Mr. Fox continue evading the tractors and excavators, or will he eventually get caught by the farmers? Will his family and friends be able to survive?

I liked what Anderson did with this movie. Essentially, he took the story from Roald Dahl children’s book and adapted it to our times, twitched it a bit here and there to make it a bit more contemporary. He fleshed out characters a bit more and gave the film new opening and closing scenes. Its interesting how in this story, a children’s story, the foxes have to steal in order to survive. Things are so harsh, prices are so high that the main characters are forced to survive by taking from the big companies that are bleeding them dry. There’s a song that gets played a few times during the film and it goes like this:

Boggis and Bunce and Bean

One fat, one short, one lean

These horrible crooks, so different in looks

Were nonetheless equally mean

Boggis and Bunce and Bean are the big farmers, producing food for the nation, and bleeding the dry with the prices. It’s why they are called ‘crooks’ in the song. So in a way, having Mr. Fox stealing from them is justified in a strange Robin Hood sort of way. Stealing from the rich to give to the poor. And it is made clear early on in the film that the family is in deed a poor one. A poor but happy one. Still, Mr. Fox wants more for his family, and I can’t say I blame him. He wants more then just living in a hole; he wants to have a place of his own. But will the world allow him that? This is partially what this film is about. The film also comments on the food we eat. Is it good for us? Is that shinny apple in the supermarket really as good as it looks?

But, like any Wes Anderson film (and this is very much a Wes Anderson film) there are some family dynamics involved. It’s the one thing that has always united Wes Anderson’s films; they’re all about family in one way or another. On Fantastic Mr. Fox, there’s tension between Mr. Fox’s son and his nephew, who has had to move in with them because his father can’t take care of him. So there’s some sibling rivalry going on between the two children in the film. Will they ever learn to play along? Mr. Fox is the father, the group leader, the leader of his community, always looking for a way to lead his people to a better situation, but not always finding the best ways to go about it. What I liked about his character is that he was always coming up with some sort of a plan, always looking out for everyone.

The look of the film is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s previous efforts. That’s the thing about this movie, even though its stop motion animated, it still retains that distinctive visual signature that accompanies an Anderson film. This is probably due to the fact that all of Anderson’s films are visually designed by his own brother, Eric Anderson. So they all have that unifying look to them. Anderson directs this film as if he was directing one of his live action films. His characters are always very articulate, very intelligent, even the children. Like the genius children from The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) or Max Fisher, the talented underachiever in Rushmore (1998) the children in Fantastic Mr. Fox are talented individuals; one of them is almost too talented, overshadowing in some ways the other, creating some tension between the two.

This was a very beautiful film to look at. Stop motion animation allows directors to manipulate ever single frame on screen more easily, so everything we see on screen is exactly what the director had in mind. These are puppets moving to Wes Anderson’s and Roald Dahl whims and ideas. And like any good stop motion animation film, this one is inhabited by many different little creatures that you can feast your eyes upon.

Is it too complicated for children? Is it too intelligent? Is the dialog too complex? You know what? I for once applaud that this film does not talk down to children. Honestly, I’m sick of children movies like Barnyard, where children are treated like retards, and everything is spelled out. Where the film is kept deliberately dumb, and we get the same old “believe in yourself” storyline. There are better things to teach our children then the dumb down crap shown in cineplexes. Same goes for regular films as well. You know what? Let the kids figure it out, let them use their brains more then they are used to. In the long run, they’ll thank you for showing them a film like this one. Never underestimate the young mind of a child!

Rating: 5 out of 5

Fantastic Mr. FoxFantastic Mr. Fox


Simon said...

This movie was, in my humble opinion, the best animated movie this year. Anderson should stick to stop-motion, it's what he's best at, I think.

Mr. Fiendish said...

I agree with Simon. I'm not the biggest Wes Anderson fan (and you know that, Franco) but this movie really sold me, it's awesome.

Franco Macabro said...

And you know what pisses me off? That UP beat this movie for best animated film of the year. This film was way better then up which seem like an uninspired Disney flick to me. I really didn't get what everybody saw in UP. Okay, its about old and young people connecting, thats fine, but really, to me it felt like so many other Disney films.

Its not even one of the "good ones" and it beat Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Mr. Fiendish said...

oh don't get sore about that bullshit, you know the Oscars are bought and corrupt.

I did like Up though. A lot. I also loved Coraline. But not as much as Mr. Fox.

Casey said...

I really liked this movie. It was odd at first, and took some time getting used to -- to get wrapped up in its magical world of talking animals. But once I was in there, it was such an enjoyable ride with comedy and adventure and drama all woven together beautifully.

I really appreciated your thorough review -- especially the drawing out of stop animation history. I didn't know most of that and it was a delight to read.

As for Up, I did like it, but I guess I saw some flaws in it that other people didn't see. If you'd like to check it out, a few people have commented on my review of it saying that i was too harsh. Weigh in on what you think if you'd like.


Franco Macabro said...

@Mr.Fiendish: Your right man! Oscars can be bullshit at times. As for Coraline, I thought it was one of the best movies of that year. So beautiful to look at, and heavy thematically, again, a deep and thought provoking childrens movie, thats the kind of childrens movie I like. Make em think!

@Casey: I touched up a bit on the whole history of stop motion. Id actually written a lot more then what went into the review, but then I noticed: damn, I should just do a whole other article on it some day. And I will!

Thanks for commenting, I will check out your review for UP. I wasnt that impressed by it, I did like the animation, and the themes...but at times it just felt same o same o to me as far as Disney movies go. Lets just say that it didnt 'wow' me.

Unknown said...

Excellent review! I agree completely. I really loved this film. I didn't have high expectations going in as Anderson's last film didn't wow me at all but I really felt that FANTASTIC MR. FOX felt like his first couple of films. There was an energy and a personal, handcrafted feel that I felt has been missing from his films for a while. I agree with others that this film was better than UP.

Franco Macabro said...

JD, I too was a bit dissapointed with Jardeeling Limited. Though I did enjoy it, it felt a little bit too much like his previous films, and a bit colder, more distant...and to top things of repetitive in a way.

But Fantastic Mr. Fox, though it has that distinctive Anderson touch, is its own thing. Probably because the source material wasnt entirely his. Still, he did manage to infuse the script (alone with regular collaborator Noah Baumbach) some of his familiar themes.

Reina said...

very nice review...this movie was beautiful to look at, entertaining, well written and directed, etc..and I love those weird looking eyes from the possum or whatever he was

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, that was my favorite looking character too, the one voiced by Bill Murray. I hear Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson are going to be working on a new project next...I cant wait to see what it will be.

I Like Horror Movies said...

I was already interested in seeing this one based off of the amazing trailer, but I am 100% all in now. It looks extremely clever, and I particularly like the remark about not talking down to the kids man, now that baby is watching more and more films I am noticing just how surface level so many of them truly are..

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Carl, I know you are a family man, hope you enjoy it with your kids! The dumbing down of kids is something Im against all the way, and this aint a dumb kids movie.

Other children movies I would show my kids:

Where the Wild Things Are


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