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Josh Reviews Fantastic Mr. Fox

Having watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, the phenomenal new stop-motion animated film from director Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited), I am almost forced to reconsider all of his previous (also wonderful) films.

Mr. Anderson’s work has always been characterized by an extraordinarily stylized look to his sets and staging.  (The Royal Tenenbaums, my favorite of Mr. Anderson’s films, must be considered a triumph of art direction amongst its many other great qualities.)  Now it seems to me that Mr. Anderson has always been approaching his movies as if they were animated films: pouring never-ending attention into the creation of the artificial worlds that his characters inhabit.  (In animation, this is of course necessary: there are no “standing sets” to use – everything must be designed from the ground up.)

Or maybe I should put it this way: in stop-motion animation, Mr. Anderson has found a perfect stylistic vehicle for his particular idiosyncratic method of storytelling.

Adapted from a book by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox focuses on a family of foxes who enter into an escalating feud with three cruel farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean.  What is remarkable is that this animated fox family is just as fully-realized as any of the clans seen in Mr. Anderson’s previous films.  Each character is filled with flaws and with strengths.  Each feels, well, human!  George Clooney voices the title character, Mr.  Fox, who is inventive and fearless… but also dangerously reckless and oblivious to the walls he is inadvertently building up between him and his son.  Jason Schwartzman plays his son, Ash, a teenaged (in fox-years) boy who idolizes his father but, sensing that he is not going to get the approval he seeks, has withdrawn into teenaged “this is all stupid” rebellion (that includes the wearing of bizarre outfits).  Meryl Streep is the patient mother of the brood who deeply loves her husband yet must admit, in a powerful moment late in the film, that she never should have married him.

Does this sound like your every-day animated film so far?

It’s just amazing, really, how Mr. Anderson (working with co-writer Noah Baumbach, who wrote and directed the magnificent film The Squid and the Whale) has shaped Roald Dahl’s tale into a film whose character drama fits perfectly in with the rest of Anderson’s filmography.  But he has done so without losing the charm and heart of Mr. Dahl’s original tale – particularly when it comes to bringing to life the increasingly escalating lunacy (and violence) of Mr. Fox’s back-and-forth feud with the farmers.

I haven’t even mentioned the enormous ensemble that surrounds the Fox family.  As in Mr. Anderson’s other films, much of the fun in Fantastic Mr. Fox comes from the terrific group of actors who have been tasked with filling in the edges of the story (and the world that has been created).  Bill Murray plays a worried badger, Willem Dafoe plays an antagonistic rat, Wally Wolodarsky plays a friendly opossum, Eric Chase Anderson plays Kristofferson (a cousin of the Fox family with whom Ash falls into a rivalry), and lots of other familiar and impeccably-well-cast voices.  But my favorite supporting role was Michael Gambon (now best known as Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series) who plays the villainous Mr. Bean, a terrifying menace that bedevils the Fox family (and all the other animals in the vicinity of his and his brothers’ farms).

The stop-motion animation – so rare to see nowadays – is wonderful and brings just the right hand-made feel to this very human story.  Having dabbled myself in stop-motion animation as a kid, I can only raise my glass in stunned appreciation to the magnificent artists who must have spent months bringing this tale to life, one teensy tiny movement at a time.

Don’t make the mistake as dismissing Fantastic Mr. Fox as a kids movie.  (It really isn’t for kids at all – well, certainly not young kids.  I was somewhat frustrated to have seen this movie in a theatre in which most of the seats sold seemed to be filled by parents and young kids.  Needless to say, most of the laughter heard as the movie unfolded came from the adults.  A lot of the kids seemed bored or a bit confused.)  But I was absolutely delighted by every frame of the film. Fantastic Mr. Fox is exciting, funny, and poignant, and clearly the work of an extraordinarily talented group of craftsmen guided by a director with a unique vision.  What more could I want to see in a film??

Simply fantastic.

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