' ' Cinema Romantico: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

You can take the live action out of a Wes Anderson movie but you can't take the Wes Anderson out of a Wes Anderson movie. I mean that as a compliment. Based on Road Dahl's book, Wes Anderson has crafted a stop motion animated film that is beautiful to watch, a treat to listen to, and packed to the brim with his trademark Ludicrous Poignancy.

Anderson's films have always contained gorgeous visuals and a distinct storybook quality and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is no exception. The attention to detail in the film's art direction is staggering and may take multiple viewings to properly digest. Relish in the shot of the Fox home doubling as a tree with a vast harvest moon hovering in the upper frame or take special note when the story finds itself in the midst of an old school showdown on main street and the camera is careful to pick up a travel agency complete with posters for destinations such as Hawaii and St. Moritz in the window. A late sequence involving our hero and a wolf in the distance is as bizarre, moving and funny as the Jaguar Shark encounter in "The Life Aquatic".

The one thing that has, at times, lagged in Anderson's work has been the storytelling. Not that he tells uninteresting stories but his scripts meander and dabble in odds and ends that catch his fancy, sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much, but in "Fantastic Mr. Fox", working with the great Noah Baumbach as co-writer, the narrative is lickety-split. Its pace is fast and the film benefits greatly.

The fox of the title is a charming rogue (voiced by the most charming rogue of 'em all - George Clooney) who began as an expert chicken thief and then, at the prodding of his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep), went into a life of journalism wherein he writes a column for the local paper he fears no one reads. But, of course, he can't do straight time. Tired of living in a hole, he buys a voluptuous tree, directly across from three fearsome chicken farms: Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Fox secretly enlists the aid of an opossum and together they carry out successive raids on each farm until Bean (Michael Gambon's always slimy voice doing its thing) makes war, leading Fox and family and the other local wildlife to go underground, the stakes increasing incrementally.

Of course what would a Wes Anderson film be without the theme of fathers & sons emerging? Perhaps one day we will know but not today. Fox's son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is withdrawn, feeling he has failed to live up to his father's crafty reputation, a belief which only expands when his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), the opposite of Ash in every way, turns up. Kristofferson gets a bandit hat. Ash doesn't. Ash will spend the film trying to earn it. And Fox will spend the film trying to re-earn the trust and affection of his wife as well as the fellow animals, a colorful and motley lot, he has endangered, not that the Cary Grant of foxes would ever worry about foregone outcomes.

The film's conclusion does not necessarily weave together its thread so that every question is answered and instead doles out a sequence that seems to summarize the feeling of not only the characters but the audience and the filmmakers too. Family life and career paths, whether for fox or human, are never easy, endlessly tricky, tunnels leading to more tunnels, but there is joy, there is a light, and sometimes you just gotta cut loose and bust a move.

Is this is a movie for kids? I have no idea. Adults were in abundance at the matinee I attended. To each parent his or her own. I, on the other hand, have written before of my seemingly unavoidable aversion to animated films, even the animated films which people attempt to persuade me were made with adults in mind. It never mattered. They always bored me. Not "Fantastic Mr. Fox". I loved it. Every inch of every frame, every voice, every word, every delicate detail, and especially a death scene involving a devious rat that affords him droll dignity. It's the animated film I have waited for all my life. It might just be Wes Anderson's masterpiece.

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