Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): United States – directed by Wes Anderson
Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mild violence
Note: My Top Films of 2009 list has been updated to include an Honorable Mention for Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book is a brief read, but full of extraordinary characters. Mr. Fox is full of charisma, and the three villains are instantly memorable. Wes Anderson has managed to take the essence of the short story, extend it into a novella-length film, and flesh out the characters even further. I think this last aspect is the key to the film’s success: instead of merely adding more events to make the movie 87 minutes long, Anderson has made the cast of characters deeper and richer.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is an irascible gentleman. He is married to Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), naturally, and as a young married couple they delighted in stealing chickens together. Their rascally ways came to an end when pregnancy forced them to settle down. But Mr. Fox is not a fox to take things lying down, and even though he promised not to go back into the business of stealing he can’t get the thrill of the hunt out of his blood.
While looking at expensive real estate he notices a trio of farms close to a new tree-house. Inquiring to the real estate agent, Weasel (Wes Anderson), he is told that each farm is tended by a mean, cruel farmer. One is short, one is fat, and one is skinny. One only eats the chickens he raises, one only eats donuts filled with goose liver, and one only drinks the hard apple cider that he distills. The three of them are not to be messed with.
Mr. Fox cannot resist a challenge and is soon sneaking out of their new home to pinch some goods. Things take a turn for the worst, however, when the three farmers band together to hunt down Mr. Fox. Pretty soon the violence escalates into a full-out war between the farmers and their men and Mr. Fox and the other ground-dwelling animals.
The charm doesn’t merely rest with the plot, however. Anderson has carefully crafted a believable stop motion universe, reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit’s escapades. Closeups of the characters particularly interesting, as individual hairs jump-cut as they speak. It’s a bit odd, but entirely mesmerizing. The rest of the animation looks amazing, with a variety of gorgeous sets and painted backdrops. It feels like Dahl’s book, come to life in a strange universe.
A Wes Anderson film wouldn’t be a Wes Anderson film without an appropriate soundtrack, and here the music ranges from classical to contemporary, hitting the right note at each moment. The dialogue, too, possesses Anderson’s deft touch for understatement, and the actors do an admirable job bringing the creatures to life. Anderson squeezes in some of his regulars, including Bill Murray as the voice of Badger.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is cute and exciting enough to be greatly enjoyable for children. All of the standard swear words are replaced with the word “cuss,” leading to some rather amusing moments. Adults won’t feel badly about their kids watching the film, and will probably smile at the smart and cute use of profanity. The movie is short, too, which is good because there really would not have been enough material to further extend the film. The key demographic at which the movie aims is probably the young 20-somethings. They are treated to a quirky, independent film adapted from one of their favorite childhood books, smart and exciting while retaining the source material’s spirit and integrity.