Fantastic Mr. Fox (Devil’s Advocate Review)
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) gave up his life of chicken-thievery when his wife (Meryl Streep) told him she was pregnant. Two years later (that’s twelve fox-years), he impulsively moves his family into the base of a tree bordering on the three meanest farmers around: Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Michael Gambon). He also starts stealing again, triggering a slowly mounting feud with the farmers that becomes the major crisis of the film. But equally important are the family dynamics present: Fox has become reckless, endangering those around him as he tries to relive the thrills of his past and causing a schism in his marriage. His son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), who wears a cape and has no athletic ability whatsoever, also has an ongoing rivalry with his visiting cousin Kristofferson, a “golden child” in terms of physical prowess but with a sadness that comes to those with a firm moral compass in an immoral environment.
It doesn’t sound much like a children’s movie, especially looking at the pedigree of the people behind it. The writers Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Noah Baumbach (The Squid & the Whale) are known for dissecting dysfunctional families and still finding the awkward humor and subtle drama that lay within. Their last collaboration, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, didn’t work as well as they’d hoped, yet they pulled together all of Anderson’s buddies (Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, even Wilson’s bald assistant in Darjeeling Limited) for another go, albeit more on the comedy end of the comedy-drama. However, this one also includes a character becoming mortally wounded and slowly, painfully passing away, something I definitely don’t encourage children to witness. There are a few sight gags children will enjoy, some frenetic action whenever a heist is taking place, and a random campfire song that borders on lunacy. but none of this is necessary to the film and feels tacked on.
I’m the Devil’s Advocate this week, and as much as this pains me, I’m awarding Fantastic Mr. Fox three pitchforks; it knew exactly how to do anything it wanted, but it wasn’t sure what it wanted in the first place, and for that I’m disappointed.
But here’s the thing: I love Wes Anderson. Rushmore is in my all-time top 10 favorite films of all time, and in my opinion, he’s never done a bad movie (one of only three directors around I can say that about). He and Baumbach expertly blend their offbeat brand of humor and sharp insights into relationships with Roald Dahl’s classic tale of mischievousness giving way to responsibility. The production design is impeccable, and lets Anderson use his attention to detail at its highest level yet to engender both highly realized and highly surreal works of art. Much like Coraline and Where the Wild Things Are earlier this year, a writer-director adapted a children’s book and stayed faithful to it while putting a smart spin on it. I take back what I said in my review of 9; I hope the nominees for the Best Animated Feature Oscar are Coraline, Up and this gem of a film. I give Fantastic Mr. Fox four pitchforks; by infusing a paradigm of children’s fiction with contemporary cleverness and charm, Wes Anderson and his usual suspects prove his work can appeal to any generation or medium.
Posted on December 1, 2009, in Film Review and tagged George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, movie, movie review, Noah Baumbach, Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson, Willem Dafoe. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.