Tuesday, December 01, 2009

REVIEW: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

One of my dearest friends, who is a big animation fan, saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox recently and told me she didn't know what to make of it.

I had to grin and giggle a little, because that's when I truly knew the movie worked as it should.

Well, no, scratch that - I first knew it when I saw it myself and found it highly entertaining. In a banner year for animation, Mr. Fox ranks third, behind Coraline and Up. But  my friend's puzzled reaction confirmed for me this film's very particular and unusual effect - you might call it the Wes Anderson effect. He was the main reason I saw the movie, which never even advertised its creator.

Anderson, of course, is known to film buffs like me for movies such as Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited, and my personal favorite of his, The Royal Tenenbaums. Outcasts and misfits run strong through his films, as does a general sense of alienation - all these movies are about their characters trying to get a better sense of who they are.

So it goes with The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The alienation is just as strong, the humor is just as quirky - this is every inch a Wes Anderson film that just happens to be stop-motion animated.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) being the animal he is, has a penchant for stealing chickens from farms. When he and his wife are trapped one day, the wife (Meryl Streep) convinces Mr. Fox to give up his pastime. For a while he does, becoming (of all things) a newspaper columnist. Ultimately, however, the urge to steal proves impossible to quash, and Mr. Fox sets out on daring hiest plans to rob three highly guarded farms.

My friend's boyfriend described The Fantastic Mr. Fox as "a midlife crisis story with animals," and that's actually a pretty fair description. That is the core of the story, adapted from Roald Dahl. However, there are some wonderfully funny vignettes besides. The heists on the farms have a zany, Rube Goldberg-like quality to them that isn't far removed from Looney Tunes. Some of the dry, low-key humor reminded me of the work of Aardman Animation, the creators of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit. To my eyes, the animation styles are somewhat similar as well.

Even so, Anderson has taken those styles and distilled them into a work that is distinctly his. It helps that Anderson, as is his wont, stocks the soundtrack with  musical gems that range from the familiar to the unfamiliar - sometimes in just one artist. Not only does it include the Beach Boys' hits "I Get Around " and "Heroes and Villians" but it also features their rare version of "Old Man River." Then there's the Disney double dose of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" and "Love" from Robin Hood. I can't help but love a soundtrack that has all that, PLUS the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man."

The movie is a little light on emotional pull, but it's so funny and creative, I had a great time all the same. Still,  what about people not attuned to Mr. Anderson's style? Mileage may vary. He can be an acquired taste, as my friends' reaction proved.  On the other hand, my best friend's six-year-old daughter very much enjoyed it.

The obvious answer, then, is to at least give The Fantastic Mr. Fox a try. Whatever effect it has, many people are likely to agree that it's unique - a quality too rarely seen in movies these days.


No comments: