You can always tell it’s a Wes Anderson movie. The Futura Bold font in the titles, the folky rock music, the slow panning shots, the dry sense of humor, the bold use of color, the impeccable sense of detail to every shot, the dysfunctional-yet-redeemable family. Anderson is clearly an auteur in the quirkiest sense. He brings all of his signature characteristics into the animated world of Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-animation film based loosely on the Roald Dahl book.
Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) used to be a farm thief, stealing chickens, cider, and squabs (?) from the three meanest farmers around, Boggus, Bunce, and Bean. After a close call with his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep), Fox settles down and becomes a newspaper fox. Yet the exciting life of thievery never leaves him, and the temptation leads him to steal once more from the three farmers, with a new sidekick found in Kylie the opossum. The irked farmers wage war on Fox and his family, driving them further and further underground and putting the entire animal community in danger.
This is the skeleton of Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s narrative, but the beauty of this film is in the details. An opening sequence featuring Mr. and Mrs. Fox trespassing on a squab farm is a panning shot richly filled by the carefully crafted set. The stop-animation allows for a very unique look; the animals’ hair moves slightly in every frame, creating an invisible wind. The colors are vibrant and autumn-like, warm and golden.
Like other Anderson films, Fantastic Mr. Fox is filled with quirky characters. Fox has a confidence and charm that make you love him even when he’s doing something wrong or selfish, i.e. stealing. Think George Clooney a la Ocean’s 11. His wife has a quiet confidence about her, a logic that keeps Fox’s wild tendencies in check. Their son, Ash, is a smaller fox currently living in the shadow of his athletic cousin, Kristofferson. Their competition hides a friendship that matures as the film progresses. Add all the woodland animals–badgers, rabbits, beavers, and the hilariously absentminded Kylie–and you’ve got a diverse community that slowly becomes a family.
I’m not sure that this is a children’s movie. The cerebral humor, the talk of existentialism and identity, the use of alcohol and smoking, and the surprising portrayal of violence make this a far more sobering film than many children are used to. That’s not to say it isn’t fun; I had a perpetual grin for the length of the film, and the many quirky jokes and delightfully creative scenes made me laugh often. This film simply fits the pattern of 2009’s best animated films (Coraline, Up, 9), which all have much more affecting and weighty tones than a Monsters vs. Aliens. Along with Where The Wild Things Are, this is a children’s film that also appeals to adults, a film that captures both a child’s innocent imagination and an adult’s understanding of the darker side of life. This may be a wonderful film for parents and children to view then discuss together; there are themes of family, identity, and even a picture of the body of Christ. In a wonderfully powerful scene, Fox addresses all of the distraught animals by naming their scientific Latin names and pointing out their inherent strengths and gifts. The tongue-in-cheek humor doesn’t hide the deeper truths–that we are all designed to be in community and use our gifts to build up the Body. Quirky story, imaginative humor, artistic sense of detail, and deeper truths about community; that all sounds pretty fantastic to me.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432283/