The Fantastic Mr. Fox,
directed by Wes Anderson
(20th Century Fox, 2009)

"Fantastic" might a bit hyperbolic when it comes to describing Wes Anderson's first animated flick, but The Fantastic Mr. Fox is definitely a double helping of charming and sweet mixed together. While it's more for adults of the hipster variety than very young children, more mature kids should get a kick out of this painstakingly assembled film.

The movie stays more or less true to the Roald Dahl story on which it is based. Mr. Fox is a reformed thief who, having grown tired of his uneventful, upwardly mobile existence, tries to get away with one last, big score against three very anal-retentive farmers. The scheme backfires when the hypervigilant farmers turn the tables on him and declare war in a battle that tears up the countryside and has Fox and his family and friends running for their lives.

The story is of course just a backdrop for the real treats, which are the movie's incredible visuals and its genteel, laid-back humor, heavily accentuated by a British Invasion-inspired soundtrack. The deadpan vocal delivery is deft and dry, the casting is deliciously perfect, and the eye-popping visual craftsmanship is in Coraline territory.

Filmed in stop-motion, Mr. Fox is a deliberate throwback to the old style of animation, where characters' movements are stiffer and imprecise and words didn't always match mouth movements. But it's not clunky or old-fashioned; in fact, it's one of the most richly textured movies I've seen in a world dominated by cutting-edge Pixar films. It's a very welcome respite from the current standard computerized 3D animation trend.

The themes are the same as they are with any Anderson movie: disappointment, loneliness and quirky (read: complicated) familial relationships. At the movie's heart is a morality play about status -- that no matter where you are born in life, you can achieve anything you believe in, if you try hard enough. There is also a moral warning, which is that the word "fantastic" has more than one meaning, enough to encompass a rather large amount of nuance. If you use it to describe yourself, be careful about which definition you settle on, because sometimes the consequences of your actions could be paid by those you love.

But the moral message never overwhelms the enchanting, whimsical world Anderson has created. He seems more at home in his stop-motion world than he has in the last couple of films he's made. Tackling serious subjects like resentment and jealousy while maintaining a certain sense of humor is a hard juggling act, but in Mr. Fox, Anderson displays the touch of the masterful craftsmanship he showed in Rushmore. It's good to see him having fun and getting back to what makes him such an original filmmaker.

review by
Mary Harvey

24 March 2012

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