Wes Anderson is tripping the light fantastic…
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: Wes Anderson
Notable Voice Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Jarvis Cocker, Willem Dafoe, Eric Chase Anderson, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray
Wes Anderson is a polarizing director; people either love of his movies or they don’t, there’s no real in-between. His specialty seems to be exploring the neurotic side of human behavior, crafting a series of films specializing in the dysfunction of groups of people in amusing situations. But none of them have ever been a commercial success, which is why his adapting the children’s novel Fantastic Mr. Fox at first sounds like an attempt by a director who so far has been successful with a niche audience (and film critics) at a film that reaches audiences en masse. But something amusing happened with this film: he put his own signature stamp on a classic tale and crafted one of the year’s best films.
Fantastic Mr. Fox focuses on the tale of the aforementioned Fantastic Mr. Fox (George Clooney), a newspaper columnist of little repute. A reformed chicken thief, who gave it up for his wife (Meryl Streep) on the birth of their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr. Fox is lured back into the game for one last score from three rich (and miserable) men, the lure of one big score is enough to get him back in the game. When it goes horribly awry, Fox finds himself swept up in a war between the rich businessmen and the rest of the animals. And while the story is rather old, Anderson finds a new way to tell it.
Using stop animation, as a starter, the film looks radically different then most of the animated films to come out in 2009. While these are wild animals talking, and interacting, Anderson gives them clothing and vocations, not unlike human beings, and gives them their own quirky personalities to boot. Anderson still allows them to act like animals, especially in a ridiculously funny moment where Badger (Bill Murray) and Fox get into a hissing match and bare their teeth before getting back to a normal argument, but he imbues them with a certain level of humanity that makes them significantly more interesting then normal (for animated, talking animals). It bridges that barrier that most animated films can’t in that they become fully realized characters.
Anderson also develops the story by making it one of redemption for Fox, as opposed to a story about a fox who merely outsmarts the three businessmen. He’s a former crook, wanting a better and honest life for his family, and everything he does is for that effect. In many ways this is a crime film, following a venture into a storyline closer to Bob le Flambeur then a true children’s novel, as Anderson takes the story given and gives it a subtext that the story originally doesn’t. It’s a surprising take on a tale that in any other hands could have been perfunctory, or even completely true to Doahl’s book. Anderson has taken the book and given it its own life and its own narrative, a terrific companion piece that keeps true to Doahl’s vision.
It doesn’t hurt that Anderson has an absolutely loaded voice cast to work with. Featuring a handful of Oscar winners, and more nominees, if this were a live action film the cast list would be exceptional. With a voice cast it’s more traditional to be able to bulk up a cast with talent, but this wasn’t one picked via resumes. It was picked for talent and the cast meshes well together. Anderson definitely has picked a cast for its ability to mesh with what he wants to do in front of it.
The more amusing part is that the film has his name attached, but doesn’t quite feel like a Wes Anderson film. But that’s not a bad thing in this case, as Fantastic Mr. Fox is just that: fantastic.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: Bill Murray, Fantastic Mr. Fox, George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson, Roald Dahl, Wes Anderson, Willem Dafoe