Starring (the voices of): George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, Brian Cox, Willem Dafoe
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer(s): Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Cinematography: Tristan Oliver
Original Score: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 87 Mins.
The film’s of Wes Anderson fall into that quiry category that transcend’s the boundaries of indie/mainstream film-making, he has a visual style as oblique as his scripts and it is fair to say his film’s certainly do not connect with everyone yet star enough big name talent to get him an audience. Like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry he has crafted out a little niche in Hollywood where quirk has become a byword for success, both audience, critical and with enough box office clout to continue working within their own unique visions. True modern-day auteurs if you will.
So while on the surface it may seem a little odd that these men are tackling beloved children’s stories (Jonze long awaited Where The Wild Things Are will be out very soon) it is less unusual than it may seem when you really think about it, stories like Wild Things, and in the case of Anderson Fantastic Mr. Fox, are short stories spanning a very minimal number of pages yet with huge space for expansion to spin the story out at will and more importantly to realise the quirks of the quthor’s themselves on screen, the likes of which are limited to the page and your imagination.
This may well be the point of reading a book, the ability to visualise something in your own way, but surely material this ripe for realisation is best suited to minds who have a very clear strong visual sense whist respecting the author’s ideals, not someone who is simply going to play out the story step by flat step. So with this in mind the works of Roald Dahl really are the perfect stomping ground for visual masters, Henry Selick’s James and the Giant Peach being the best example to date. So it is no surprise to learn that a.) Fantastic Mr. Fox is of the same stop-motion style and b.) it really is, to use a cliche, “fantastic”.
Anderson’s whole body of work has revolved around the “family” aesthetic, addressing issues of broken family, missing parent’s, and sibling rivalry, and this is no exception, expanding on the classic tale of fox taking of the farmers, and making it a touching yet hilarious story. Regular Anderson collaberator’s are all present and correct, Wilson, Murray, Dafoe, but it is Clooney that is the film’s trump card, that he is American in a quintissentially British story makes no difference, for there is so much spark in his vocal performance, Streep is workable alongside him lending some warmth and as their son Ash, Anderson favourite Schwartman is great even if he is basically the foxy neurotic equivalent of himself.
In choosing to make the film in stop motion simply means that the director’s style can be applied so wildly, in showing many scnes from afar and with such originality. I feel almost ashamed at my initial response to the almost amateur look that was first seen in the trailers, it’s not that this look is fundamentally any different on the big screen, just that in the sphere of the world that is crafted overall it feels pitch perfect. There is more character in the twitch of Mr. Fox’s ears than in any number of CGI films.
In coupling this with the very witty script that does not pander to children (i.e. Ice Age) yet retains enough quirkiness to sit in the realms of keeping children hooked, as it should do given Fantasic Mr. Fox IS a childrens book. Credit must go to Baumbach and Anderson for retaining the quirks of the story so well, the puppetry of Boggis, Bunce and Bean is so great and while they are very very funny, Bean in particular oozes menace (helped no end by Michael Gambon’s dulcit tones). Some of the flourishes adopted in combining “set pieces” with fabulous character work make this a strong contender for animated film of the year alongside Pixar’s Up, yes I have to admit it really is THAT good.
Fantastic Mr. Fox truly is “fantastic”, in that Anderson’s take on the Dahl classic retains the book’s spirit, yet spins out the story as a typical study of family, but what really takes the film somewhere special is in its quite frankly hilarious script and the thoroughly perfect realisation of the story through unique and almost retro looking stop motion.