Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) dir. Wes Anderson
Voices by: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwarzman, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe
By Alan Bacchus
Upon seeing this film for a second time, which makes for an experience as glorious if not more than the first, I’m convinced ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is Wes Anderson’s best film. In fact, it might be my favourite animated film since the Disney Golden Era of animation in the late 30’s early 40’s.
I get frustrated every year with each new Pixar release generating near unanimous critical praise and gobbling up loads of money. Despite the clever writing and technically proficient computer animation each and every one of these films (including the other studio knock offs) are the same - the same tone, same mix of characters, and even the same visual look. Which is a shame considering the creative possibilities open to the CG medium.
This is why ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ makes for a marvellous experience. Since Wes Anderson brings his unique auteur live action cinema perspective to a medium primarily operated by committee than by the creative mind of a single director we get a wholly unique animated film unlike anything we’ve seen before.
As written by Anderson and co-writer Noah Boambach, who would seem as the most unlikely pair of writers to do this type of children’s story, the cinema version of Roald Dahl’s story is perfectly enhanced by the feature film medium. In the special features Anderson admits, though he loved the book as a child, as a standalone film, the story doesn’t work and so even the Dahl family themselves acknowledged bookending the original material with new first and third acts were the necessary addition to elevate the story to a feature film.
Though its Dahl’s story, Wes Anderson’s thematic fingerprints are in the every corner of the story. Outside of the rambunctious action plotting, at core the film again brings up Anderson’s career predilections with the relationship of father to son. George Clooney is perfectly cast as the swashbuckling shit-disturber who just can’t help himself from being the sly fox he was born to be. While he’s selfishly expressing his own inner desires he doesn’t realize he’s alienating his teenage son who unfortunately just doesn’t have the same guile as his father. This connection further expands on the relationship between the Tanenbaum children to the father, same with Owen Wilson to Bill Murray’s characters in “The Life Aquatic” and the three brothers on the Indian journey in “The Darjeeling Limited”. And the fun comic robbery shenanigans perpetrated by Fox's family brings us back to the silliness of the heist plans in 'Bottle Rocket'.
Wes Anderson’s visual style and idiosyncratic tone is front and centre as well, and while his immaculately-framed tableaus seemed repetitive in his last few pictures under stop motion animation it feels as fresh and inspired as his early work. So if Wes Anderson gave up live action and only made stop motion movie, I probably wouldn't complain.
The texture achieved from stop motion technology is also a marvel, the real world feeling we get from the tedious frame by frame advancement of the animator’s models, cannot be replicated by computer. The last time animation felt this invigorated is 1993’s ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’, another stop motion film authored by a live action feature auteur.
‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox (who else) Home Entertainment