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We’re Wild Animals

November 4th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Logging in to Netflix Instant for a movie to watch is like being hungry and shown to a food replicator. It doesn’t solve my problem — it introduces one thousand new ones. Luckily, I can see which genres are rated higher in nutritional content, in this case, 4 or 4 ½ star ratings out of 5 stars. “Documentary” had a lot of those. So did “Anime & Animation”. In the month of November, I take another trip around the globe to sample recent animated feature films. Next stop: East London, U.K.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Screenplay by Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach, based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Produced by Allison Abate, Scott Rudin, Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson
87 minutes

10-year-olds playing in their rooms with tens of millions of dollars begets the sixth film from Wes Anderson. The filmmaker was so enamored by the work of Roald Dahl — citing the author’s 1970 book Fantastic Mr. Fox as the first he owned — that in 2001, Anderson lobbied Dahl’s widow Felicity for the film rights. Five years later, Fox announced they would finance and distribute the stop motion animated picture. Shot over one year at Three Mills Studios in East London, Anderson actually spent most of that time in Paris. His decision to collaborate via email did not sit well with his crew, while animation director Mark Gustafson — who made the claymation ad campaign for California Raisins — was bewildered by some of Anderson’s creative decisions, which subverted modern technology and were painstaking to execute. The budget arrived at roughly $40 million.

One of the most impressive feats of Fantastic Mr. Fox is how Wes Anderson tries something completely different here while crafting what also feels very much like an Anderson film, from its misunderstood mastermind, picture book compositions, retro soundtrack (“Heroes and Villains” and “Ol’ Man River” by The Beach Boys are used to memorable effect) and unmistakable whimsy. It’s like Bottle Rocket brought to life by puppets on loan from a 1960s holiday TV special. Unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story has little if anything to say, but the rudimentary design of the special effects is such a welcome respite from 3-D and the bombastic digital effects that litter children’s films. Though Anderson cut a narration by Jarvis Cocker, the English musician appears out of nowhere as a folk singer and contributes to a soundtrack that includes a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) promises to turn over a new leaf for the pregnant Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) after his grandiose ambitions snare them in a trap while stealing chickens. Two years (12 fox years) later, Mr. Fox ekes out a living as a newspaper columnist while coveting far greater prosperity. He purchases a beech tree, ignoring the advice of his attorney Badger (Bill Murray) that his neighbors would be three of the meanest farmers in the valley. Walt Boggis (Robin Hurlstone) is a fat chicken farmer. Nate Bunce (Hugo Guinness) is a dwarfish duck and goose farmer. Frank Bean (Michael Gambon) is a turkey and apple farmer, quite possibly the meanest man alive. Mr. Fox moves his family into their new home, but is unable to resist the temptation of one last job, drafting his dim-witted superintendent — the opossum Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) — to assist.

Searching for an identity, Mr. Fox’s awkward teenage son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is frustrated by the arrival of his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), whose athleticism wins him an invitation to join Mr. Fox’s gang. After successful raids of Boggis’ chicken coop and Bean’s alcoholic cider cellar, all three farmers stake out Fox’s tree and open fire, shooting off his tail. The family soon has bigger problems when the farmers try to dig them out, sending the critters tunneling underground for survival. Rescued by an assortment of badgers, beavers and rabbits, Mr. Fox retaliates by tunneling into the farms of his tormentors. In a bid for his father’s approval, Ash attempts a raid of his own, employing the help of Kristofferson. When only one of them returns, Mr. Fox contemplates a suicide mission, only to come to his senses and recruiting his friends in a go-for-broke rescue mission.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 111,105 users: 79% for Fantastic Mr. Fox

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 83 for Fantastic Mr. Fox

What do you say?

Tags: Alternate universe · Animation · Based on novel · Coming of age · Father/son relationship · Gangsters and hoodlums · Heist · Interrogation · Master and pupil · No opening credits

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 AR // Nov 4, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I saw roughly the last 30-45 minutes or so a couple of months back and found it utterly charming. I was surprised by how, even in animation form, it was very much a Wes Anderson movie, down to the camera angles and color scheme. But it went in the direction I’ve always been itching for him to go–into the realm of pure fantasy. I really need to borrow the dvd from my friend and watch the whole thing.

    Also, I recall reading an interview with the animators when this movie hit the theatres and remember their frustration with his style of direction. I loved that they kept the inherent “kinks” of the form intact, kinks that others have worked to smooth out.

    I do feel kinda bad for the animators, but the results were terrific. Sometimes friction is good.

  • 2 Patrick // Nov 6, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Saw this in a theater on the recommendation of my brother, who took his kids, it was a lot of fun. I can’t exactly say why I would get the sense that someone doing a mere voice over was doing a good job, but I thought Clooney was really good as Mr. Fox.

    My movie tip for the day, since you mentioned documentaries, is to get “Note by Note”, I watched it last night, absolutely terrific, one of my favorite documentaries ever. It follows the building of a Steinway Concert Grand Piano, a process that takes about a year.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Nov 6, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Amanda: The Los Angeles Times ran a story about the difficulties Wes Anderson ran into with his crew on this show. It reminds me a lot of what James Cameron went through shooting Aliens in England. In ten years, most of these people will be telling their friends that they worked for Wes Anderson once. Silly. Thanks for commenting!

    Patrick: When asked why George Clooney, Wes Anderson’s answer was that Clooney sounded heroic. I thought it was excellent casting as well. Mr. Fox reminded me of Everett from O Brother Where Art Thou?. He’s brilliant only in comparison to the idiots assembled around him. Thanks for commenting!

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