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Fantastic Mr. Fox- Falls Short of Fantastic, But Mr. Fox is Quite Good

Wes Anderson has made a career out of hip irony, and one can picture him completely embracing the imperfections in his quirky stop-motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In some ways, his style suits the film perfectly– after all, a two-dimensional character in a children’s animated film can still have warmth, wit, and heart. The film is perfectly executed within the style, and Anderson’s hand stays steady from beginning to end. However, since Anderson never aims for transcendence, it settles for being a very fun trifle of a film, and while I left the theater smiling, it had the unfortunate circumstance of coming out in the best year in animated film history, so its impact is diminished.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) got out of the game of stealing chickens from farms long ago. He now has a column which runs in the local newspaper… but he’s tired of being a big fish in a small pond. He desires to move himself, his wife (Meryl Streep), his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), and his visiting nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) into a giant tree. The problem? That tree overlooks the heavily guarded farms of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (Michael Gambon), the three meanest and nastiest farmers there ever were. In order to up his status in life, Mr. Fox begins thieving again. Yet in doing so, he unwittingly incurs the wrath of Bean, who will stop at nothing, including digging up the entire valley, in order to find and kill Mr. Fox. It’s a battle of wits, survival, and pride… and with Mr. Bean wearing Mr. Fox’s tail as a necktie, it’s personal.

The film’s visuals, meant to look incredibly stylized and somewhat ramshackle, take a little while to get used to. At first, you’re acutely aware of how low-budget the animation seems, and while Anderson’s love of the charm this look provides shines through from the get-go, as someone spoiled by the films of Nick Park (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit) and Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline), I had difficulty buying that Anderson ever wanted us to get lost in the film, instead wanting us to merely sit back, detached in admiration. However, as the film moves forward, and the Alexandre Desplat score and soundtrack full of Wes Anderson-esque song choices sink into your system, the film hits a rhythm that is breezy and fun. Anderson knows the animation is the star and treats us to many long uncut shots of the characters executing long action sequences, further cementing the film’s charm.

At the end of the day, the way the voices deliver the lines both make the film work and limit how high it can soar. Everyone delivers their lines in a cool, clear, but unemotional way, which gives the film a hip attitude that fits its visual style, but since the characters never really seem to have any true commitment other than the savvy Ocean’s 11 ironic demeanor they convey, it’s difficult to fully commit to the story or the characters. While I wanted to see how the story would play out, I can’t say I ever cared for a single character. It’s at once a testament to Anderson’s abilities as a storyteller and his weaknesses as a character builder. I don’t think any of his characters post-Rushmore have ever earned sympathy. Regardless of the characters, it’s still a fun, swift, smooth telling of a great story, with some witty dialogue and visuals. The majority of this review has been spent trying to identify why the film never gets to A+, but trust, the film still passes with flying colors. Fantastic isn’t the first word that comes to mind, but Anderson does deliver a darn good time.

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~ by russellhainline on December 16, 2009.

One Response to “Fantastic Mr. Fox- Falls Short of Fantastic, But Mr. Fox is Quite Good”

  1. […] Animated Feature: 9. Monsters vs. Aliens 8. 9 7. Fantastic Mr. Fox 6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 5. Coraline 4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3. Ponyo 2. The […]

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