It’s peculiar to think that a director such as Wes Anderson would decide to direct a stop-motion family film based on a book by Roald Dahl, but nevertheless it did happen. It is less surprising to an extent given his admittedly limited work using stop-motion in his films, such as “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” but this time he goes full steam ahead. I remember watching “Fantastic Mr. Fox when it came out and I distinctly recall snorting in superiority when I watched the adverts on TV, back when I was 12 I didn’t give a rat’s ass about who Wes Anderson was but needless to say after the movie I found myself intrigued.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” immediately struck me as a little odd back in the day, though the quirky film making Wes Anderson embraces is what elevates his projects above and beyond what similar movies could achieve. It is true that there is not so much in the way of substance in the film, but the aesthetic as well as the brilliant sense of humour transform “Mr. Fox” from generic family affair to a well-respected man about town.
The quote-unquote “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has his voice lent to him by the superb George Clooney who comprises just one part of an all-around near perfect cast. Meryl Streep lends her voice to Mrs. Fox, along with stellar performances from Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Defoe, Owen Wilson and more.
Mr Fox once occupied a life in which he stole chickens with his wife, and the film opens with their last heist together. Mr. Fox managed to expertly get the pair caught in a cage and upon the announcement by Mrs. Fox that she was pregnant, Mr. Fox makes a promise to give up stealing birds for a living.
12 fox years later and the Fox family are living in a hole in the ground with their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr. Fox is now a newspaper man though he isn’t satisfied with his new life of safety and getting by. He confides in his wife “Honey, I am seven fox years old. My father died at seven and a half. I don’t want to live in a hole anymore.” Besides the gratuitous use of the word fox, this sounds like a fairly normal premise for a film that might not necessarily be what one would expect from a movie aimed at the family.
All of the characters are clearly animals, but they don’t act like them, save for a few witty nods to the anthropomorphic nature of the creatures such as when Mr. Fox ravages his dinner and again when he approaches a confrontation with his lawyer, Badger (Bill Murray), by clawing and snarling around a table. As the film panders little to anthropomorphic stereotypes, it becomes instantly more enjoyable for a more mature audience. Children will still be amused by main characters with fur that talk, but we will be amused by how commonplace a Fox discussing real estate options with a Weasel (Wes Anderson) whilst a Badger warns him of the particularly dangerous climate appears.
Shortly after the arrival of the Fox family’s cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) on account of his fathers double pneumonia, Mr. Fox relocates to a tree in order to make himself feel less poor. The tree happens to overlook the farms of Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon), which causes Mr. Fox to return to his old life of thievery with the aid of his new partner Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) and the horrible Franklin Bean leading an attack on the Fox family tree (literally) with Boggis and Bunce as his underlings. The whole town ends up on the run on account of Mr. Fox and he finds his marriage in jeopardy due to having broken his promise.
For the most part Wes Anderson is able to make each scene enjoyable with his trademark symmetry and oddball wit. A particular shot comes to mind in which Franklin Bean is described as “possibly the scariest man currently living” and he is sat surrounded by antler trophies. It’s easy to appreciate the symmetry and for this shot there is a lot to enjoy aesthetically, but Anderson is a man of shots and less so scenes. He and Noah Baumbuch can carry scenes with an energetic writing style for a while, but the last third of the film becomes a little tiresome because the tone hasn’t actually really changed throughout. Anderson calls upon the same few techniques throughout which seem great at first but eventually the formula begins to show.
Still, there is no denying that it is a good if structurally weak formula. Despite the slight faltering towards the end, there is no denying that “Fantastic Mr. Fox” a great time for children and adults alike, with no concessions made to either party. Wes Anderson should be commended for showing his versatility by tackling an altogether different genre based on a book by perhaps the most beloved children’s writer and making it really quite something by taking the tools of his experience with him. He needs work as a director but he overcame the issues shown in this film with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which really shows his prowess behind a camera. That said, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is not to be missed.