Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 11/26/09.
One of the most beloved novelists in the history of literature, Roald Dahl's witty tales have always been beloved by many. One of them was Fantastic Mr. Fox about a fox who outwits three nasty hunters to feed his family and friends. The book's clever humor and theme about family remains one of Dahl's finest work as other stories like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, James & the Giant Peach, the Witches, and Matilda were all made into feature films as either live-action or stop-motion animation. Now Fantastic Mr. Fox is now made into a feature film but as a stop-motion animation film from the visual mind of one of cinema's most creative auteurs in Wes Anderson.
Directed by Wes Anderson with a script adaptation by Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Fantastic Mr. Fox is an expansive re-telling of Dahl's famed novel with elements of existentialism and broad humor. A mixture of Anderson's unique visual style and quirky soundtrack choices as well as Dahl's own dark sense of humor and themes about family. It's a film that revels in the best of both worlds as Anderson not only creates a faithful adaptation of sorts of Dahl's book but also makes it his own that works with his own style as a director. With an all-star voice cast that includes such Anderson associates as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Anderson, Adrien Brody, Wallace Wolodarsky, Willem Dafoe, and Brian Cox along with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Helen McCroy, and Jarvis Cocker. Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the most inventive and mesmerizing animated films that's ever been created.
Living in a valley near farms, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) are stealing food where they are trapped as Mr. Fox vows to never steal again. Two years later (12 in fox years), Mr. Fox and Felicity live peacefully at a hole with their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman). Fox wants to live in a fancier home as he turns to a real estate weasel agent (Wes Anderson) and a superintendent named Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), an opossum, as the home overlooks the farms of the three nastiest farmers in the land. The chicken farmer Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), the duck and goose farmer Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and apple cider farmer Bean (Michael Gambon). After consulting with his lawyer Clive Badger (Bill Murray) where Badger warns about buying the house, Fox and his family moves in along with Fox's nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) who is proven to be a natural talent in athletics and all sorts of things much to Ash's dismay.
After befriending Kylie, Fox and Kylie decides to go and steal food through a series of small-time thefts though Felicity is suspicious. During a trip to steal cider from Bean's farm with help from Kristofferson, the trio nearly gets in trouble as they encounter a rat (Willem Dafoe) and Mrs. Bean (Helen McCroy). The thefts have made the farmers upset where Bean comes up with an idea to camp outside the tree house and kill the entire fox family and Kylie. The raid leaves Mr. Fox without a tail as things get worse as the farmers dig through the house forcing the entire party to dig underground and hide and continue so once the farmers brought tractors and explosions to make things worse.
With everyone hungry and all of the creatures in the forest angry at Fox for all of this, Fox decides to stage a raid with other creatures to steal food from the farms while Mrs. Fox and other creatures stay at Badger's home. The raid becomes a success as a feast occurs until Ash decides to get his dad's tail back with Kristofferson's help only to face problems for everyone. With the farmers becoming more destructive, it's up to Mr. Fox to save everyone with some help involved from all other creatures.
While the original story of Fantastic Mr. Fox is a short little story that can last for a few hours to read. Turning into a film while using the large bulk of the book as part of the second act seems like a radical approach of the story. Yet, Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach manage to create a film that isn't just faithful to Roald Dahl's original tale. They also add more elements of ideas that coincide with Anderson's own cinematic themes of family, existentialism, and growing up. The difference is that Anderson chooses to underplay his themes a bit into something that is more accessible and not too high-concept.
The dialogue is mostly told through Anderson's own fast, quick-witted style with a mixture of the witty dialogue of Dahl's own text in the book. Notably the song that the kids sing about the farmers which is kept. Some of the dialogue is told in an adult manner like a scene where Fox and Badger want to say profane things to each other. It could've been done with words of profanity but Anderson and Baumbach chooses to clean it up and make it funnier which seems to work for the adults but also not make it too racy for kids.
Anderson's direction is filled with some of his trademark shots and colorful visual style. The major difference is that it's not as overt as it was in his other films while presenting it in a very different cinematic style. Using stop-motion animation with the help of animation director Mark Gustafson, the film has a look that isn't reminiscent of the work from the creators of Wallace & Gromit or Henry Selick (who was originally involved but chose to do other projects). Instead, it's a look of its own while it plays up to Anderson's own visual style. From the way he composes a film to how he will shoot an entire scene with tracking shots one frame at a time.
Anderson's attentive to detail from the look of the fur and clothing to the close-ups of the eyes of the characters add something that is definitely marvelous to look at. Even action sequences and comical scenes have a look and feel that is truly stunning in its presentation and execution. The result overall isn't just Anderson's best work since 1998's Rushmore which seems like an overused term. It also shows that he is definitely one of the most inventive and original directors of his generation.
The cinematography of Tristan Oliver is phenomenal in its look from the lighting of the scenes in it daytime or nighttime settings. Even as Oliver sets an atmosphere in the look of the underground holes that the Fox family and Kylie hide in with the use of fake fires and such. Particularly in scenes at night with the help of some visual effects from supervisor Tim Ledbury in some very comical scenes involving electrical fences. The editing by Andrew Weisblum is brilliant for its pacing and moments to break the film down in chapters as if the book comes to life in some aspects. The transitions are well-done as well as its sense of rhythm in terms of the fact that it's all stop-motion where it has to be shot one frame at a time for a movement of a character.
The art direction by production designer Nelson Lowry is exquisite in its attention to detail and how it's designed. Particularly a lot of the set pieces come from the style of Anderson's recent films in terms of its framing and compositions as Lowry does a great job with the look of the tree houses, farms, and all sorts of locations. Sound editors David Evans and Jacob Ribicoff do a great job in the recreation of the sounds of barking dogs, sirens, gun shots, and tractors as it is all well-made to create an atmosphere for the film and its numerous sequences.
The music of Alexandre Desplat is definitely mesmerizing as it is a mixture of brimming orchestral pieces and twangy, country-style music with foot-stomping rhythms, banjos, and all sorts of organic instruments. Desplat's orchestral work also features boys choirs singing to the song Boggis, Bunce, and Bean hate to hear along with all sorts of atmospheric pieces with the use of chimes and strings. One of the standout cuts in the soundtrack is an original song by Jarvis Cocker which he co-wrote with Wes Anderson that is a playful romp about Mr. Fox's shenanigans. The soundtrack itself is definitely one of Anderson's best that features score pieces by George Delerue from the films of Francois Truffaut plus songs by the Beach Boys, The Bobby Fuller Four, Cole Porter, Burl Ives, and another trademark of Anderson's films, the Rolling Stones doing Street Fighting Man.
The voice casting is definitely marvelous with appearances from Anderson associates like Adrien Brody as field mouse helping out in the final mission, Brian Cox as a news reporter, and Roman Coppola as a squirrel contractor. Other voices include Karen Duffy as an otter, film director Garth Jennings as Bean's dim-witted son Juman Malouf as Ash's crush Agnes, Helen McCroy as Mrs. Bean, and Wes Anderson himself as the voice of a real-estate weasel. Robin Hurlstone and Hugo Guinness are excellent as the voices of Boggis and Bunce, respectively as they're given a few funny lines while Jarvis Cocker is great in his role as Petey, Bean's assistant who likes to sing with a banjo. Owen Wilson has a small but memorable cameo as the voice of Ash and Kristofferson's coach Skip who explains the rules of a cricket-like game called Whackbat while Willem Dafoe is great as the villainous, paranoid Rat who says bad things about Mrs. Fox.
Wallace Wolodarsky is great as the funny yet mild-mannered Kylie, an opossum who often sports crazy eyes whenever he kind of blacks out. Eric Anderson is really good as the laid-back Kristofferson, a fox who likes to meditate and just let things be. Michael Gambon is also good as Bean, the nastiest farmer who is a great shot while persistent in catching Mr. Fox. Bill Murray is hilarious as Clive Badger, a lawyer who claims to be a demolition expert while having a funny argument with Mr. Fox. Jason Schwartzman is wonderful as Ash, the despondent son who is having a hard time with the fact that he's different from his dad. Meryl Streep is great as Felicity (named after Roald Dahl's widow) who is calm and to the point while being the person who can ground Mr. Fox. Finally, there's George Clooney who is perfect as the voice of Mr. Fox with his calm, laid-back delivery and enthusiasm in his mix of light humor and drama as he brings the character to life.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is indeed, a fantastic film from Wes Anderson with an amazing voice cast, superb animation, an amazing soundtrack, and great attention to detail in the animation. In an age where animated films have succumb to the 3D trend in order to get audiences into the movie theaters. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film that doesn't play to any kind of gimmicks nor current film trends that is going on while allowing audiences of all ages to have fun and be engaged by an incredible story. Fans of Roald Dahl's story might be bewildered by Anderson's radical take on the story but will be happy to see how faithful it is to the book. In the end, Fantastic Mr. Fox is definitely the year's best animated film while proving that Wes Anderson is indeed one of cinema's most unique talents.
Wes Anderson Films: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Hotel Chevalier - The Darjeeling Limited - Moonrise Kingdom - Castello Cavalcanti - The Grand Budapest Hotel - The Auteurs #8: Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson Soundtracks: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Seu Jorge-The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - (Moonrise Kingdom)
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