The Principles: Wes Anderson (Director). George Clooney. Bill Murray. Jonathan Schwartzman. Meryl Streep. Owen Wilson.
The Premise: When Mr. Fox (Clooney) gives in to his primal instincts (stealing chickens, among other things), he finds himself on the bad side of some pretty ruthless farmers. His home destroyed, his life on the line, his family and friends in peril and his nephew imprisoned, Mr. Fox has to find a way to save the day…and still be fantastic.
Is It Good: YES. Yes. Fuck yes. Amazing, actually. Wes Anderson is one of The Beloved in terms of directors and Mr. Fox, while not being his magnum opus (I‘d give that honor to The Life Aquatic), is among the very best of his work. And it’s very much a Wes Anderson film – it’s very low-key and sepia-toned with Anderson’s trademark “lived-in” mise-en-scene. But where it seems to differ from an Anderson movie (aside from the fact that it’s animated), is that it doesn’t really have the emotional depth. That’s not a criticism, mind you, but it IS based on a children’s book so its moral center is pretty much worn on its sleeve. At one point Ms. Fox (Streep) tells her husband that it’s a simple story, really – either he changes or they all die. And that’s pretty much the long and the short of it. And change he needs to do – he’s incredibly selfish and arrogant and he takes every single person in his life for granted. Obviously he isn’t going to be able to solve this problem without their help, so the rest of the movie is spent with his learning to recognize their values and his shortcomings. It’s all really simple stuff (though it does get a little bit dark in places) and Anderson is able to bring all of it to life with an understated elegance. Even though it’s ostensibly a children’s fable, it’s very mature and sophisticated.
Is It Worth A Look: Absolutely! Though, if you’re reading this site or if you have kids there’s a strong chance you already have. I really can’t explain why I’m so late to the party on this one, but c’est la vie. But again, yes, it’s certainly worth a look. And not just for Anderson’s directorial sensibilities. Clooney does an amazing job with Mr. Fox, selling his revelatory journey with subtlety and small motions appropriate for the type of story we’re telling. The only emotion he really sells is excitement (during the Big Rescue Plan scene), which fits in with the Kid-lit aesthetic nicely. Everybody else turns in great performances as well, with extra special note going to Jason Schwartzman. What he’s able to do with Ash (who might be the most emotionally conflicted of all the characters) with such a monotonous deliberation is remarkable.
And none of this even mentions the stop-motion animation, which is gorgeous. I realize they’re different styles and it’s almost an unfair comparison, but while Aardman goes for a more exaggerated, cartoonish aesthetic, Mr. Fox goes in a more subdued direction. And the expanded possibilities that come with animation obviously add a whole new set of tools for Anderson as a director, but what’s rather incredible is that he uses them all to further his own style, as opposed to adapting himself to the new sandbox. Every big movement or fantastic display of animation or action is just an extension of what you’d see these actors do in a live-action Anderson film. The comfort and confidence this man has in his own style is what makes him one of The Greats and what makes Fantastic Mr. Fox such an amazing movie.
But I know – you already know this because I’m practically the last person around to have seen this movie.
Random Anecdotes: I kinda want to bring up the whole “directing via e-mail” kerfuffle, but that hardly seems worth it now. Especially with us being so far removed from it and the fact that it kind of turned out to be somewhat non-news in the end. I will say that Mr. Fox’s trademark kinda got on my nerves there toward the end. I don’t know if it was the animation of it all, if it was the way it didn’t always fit in organically with whatever it was that Fox was saying, or whatever else it may have been, but half the time that whistle-click fell flat for me. It was redeemed at the end, though, when Kiley tries his own trademark on for size. “Ohhhh I get it.” Nicely done, Mr. Clooney.
Cinematc Soulmates: All of Anderson’s other movies. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Watership Down. The Good Son.