BY TIMOTHY RABB
Daily Arts Writer
Published November 25, 2009
Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a triumph in auteurism that can be attributed to the imaginative quirkiness of its creator. Seasoned Anderson veterans can expect a familiar thematic emphasis on the importance of family, diversity, honesty and community, all presented with the aid of an unconventional animated medium that lends value and originality to the “Rushmore” director’s repertoire.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
at Quality 16 and Showcase
20th Century Fox
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is an adaptation of the classic children’s novel by Roald Dahl (famed author of “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda”) that details the misadventures of the aptly named Mr. Fox (George Clooney, “Burn After Reading”) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep, “Doubt”). The catalyst that moves the story forward is Mr. Fox’s kleptomania, which drives him from his house in a tree to steal poultry and hard cider. Farmers Boggis (newcomer Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (newcomer Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince") get wise to his schemes and embark on an obsessive quest to kill Fox and his cohorts.
The movie is fascinating in the way it applies the most staple elements of American culture and modern science to the life of a fox with such absurd humor. This facet of Anderson’s style is often applied to his characterizations of Fox and his peers. For example, Mr. Fox is always demanding that his possum friend Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky, “The Simpsons”) use hand signals to indicate he’s paying attention because his vacant possum eyes show no emotional reaction to Fox’s earnest diatribes. The use of stop-motion animation in “Fox” — though by no means unprecedented in the world of filmmaking — is executed in a particularly wonderful way that has never really been done before. The dialogue is a witty hodgepodge of highbrow discourse and vulgar euphemisms. In short, it’s a quintessential Anderson film with the welcome addition of stop-motion animation and children’s themes.
On that note, one prominent problem of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is its complete failure to pitch its inherently adult humor to the proper demographic. Though the auteur's childish, light humor is designed to win over even the coldest and most cynical of intellectuals, the context in which it’s presented will only befuddle the young audience for which the movie was intended. For example, the literal use of the word “cuss” as a stand-in for any and all swearing in the dialogue betrays the innocence of a child, but what child will understand Fox’s referring to his dilemma as a “complete clustercuss?” Furthermore, the grotesque nature of the stop-motion animation and the unflattering close-ups of the characters seems to be deliberately tailored to incite a child to scream rather than laugh. One could almost assume this is Anderson’s way of biting his thumb at the conventional expectations of children’s book adaptations.
Misdirected marketing aside, this film is familiar Wes Anderson fare: a movie about the perils of the young genius, intended for the young genius. It’s not afraid to deal with the restlessness and machismo of the American husband while also exploring the unbridled (yet innocent and well-intentioned) motivations of youth. “Fox” is a relevant, timeless combination of 20th century values and 21st century quirkiness that’s guaranteed to please. That is, so long as you leave your kids at home.