Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.
When it comes to the films of Wes Anderson, I always wonder how much is the real Wes Anderson and how much is simply affectation. His style is so distinctive that it’s impossible not to recognize his work immediately. So when it comes to his animated feature debut, Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was curious as to whether or not that style would carry over into stop motion. It does. Let’s get that out of the way right away.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on a book by Roald Dahl, which means it will be both whimsical and quite dark in places. The meet the eponymous Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) as they are one their way home. They decide to raid a chicken far and are captured, at which point Felicity reveals she is pregnant. Flash forward a few years and Mr. Fox is now reformed (kind of), and writes a newspaper column. His son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) feels like a typical Wes Anderson misfit and is complet with quirks and OCD habits like all of Anderson’s characters. Soon, Ash’s cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, the director’s brother) arrives and appears to upstage Ash in every aspect of life, including stealing the girl Ash is interested in.
All is well until the Fox family moves to a tree which sits behind the farms of three men, each of whom specializes in a different form of poultry. The trouble starts when Fox, along with his building supervisor Kylie the opossum (Wally Wolodarsky) start stealing from the three farms. Eventually, the three farmers (the main one voiced by Michael Gambon) decide to do something about their fox problem and manages to shoot off his tail and destroy his house. Fox and many of his neighbors are forced to move underground, only to be continually pursued by the three farmers. When he uses their attempts to catch him to steal all of their stock, things get serious. And of course, there will be redemption, reconciliation, and plenty of pilfered poultry items to get us to the end.
So let’s talk about whether or not this all works. I happen to like Wes Anderson pretty well, although I get very tired of him very quickly. The good news on that front is that Fantastic Mr. Fox does not overstay its welcome. I can’t figure out who this was made for, though. Certainly this is a family film in a large respect, but how many kids are really going to understand the quirks of Anderson characters? They almost certainly aren’t going to get most of the jokes, although there are plenty of moments kids will enjoy. In a large way, though, this is a film without an audience.
The stop-motion work is interesting because it is specifically jerky, an homage to the old Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer While some of the adult audience might catch the reference, most won’t, and the kids won’t get it at all. My suspicion is that any kid who was seen some of the better Aardman animation will look at this and wonder why it seems so amateur. It didn’t bother me a lot because it looks exactly like the sort of thin that Wes Anderson would do.
Of course, a lot of Wes Anderson’s trademarks are here byond the quirky characters. Many of his favorite cast members—Bill Murray, Owen Wilson—have parts. We get the titles put into different sections of the film, an Anderson staple. The characters dress like they belong in a previous decade. There’s a quaintness to Anderson’s work that definitely carries over here. That Ash dresses frequently as a superhero marks him as odd in the real world and completely normal in a Wes Anderson world.
Did I like this? Kind of. There’s a particular charm to it that’s difficult to place. It reminds me of a childhood I never had—a childhood no one ever had. I like it on that level, and I admit that there were a couple of moments of genuine humor that made me laugh out loud. I love some of the characters, like Kylie. But I hold to the idea that this is a film that really only exists for Wes Anderson fans. You know who else would like this? Anderson’s precocious child characters. It’s almost like he’s made a film to be watched by the family in The Royal Tenenbaums.
Why to watch Fantastic Mr. Fox: Because Wes Anderson is too weird not to watch.
Why not to watch: Like all Wes Anderson films, it’s a bit too self-aware.