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STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
MSRP: $29.98
RATED:
PG
RUNNING TIME: 97 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Behind-the-scenes extras: From Script to screen
  • Still Life (Puppet animation)
  • A beginner’s guide to whack-bat

The Pitch


A somewhat classic Roald Dahl book gets the Wes Anderson treatment with an all-star cast, amazing stop-motion, and sensibilities geared at least as much towards young adults and parents as they are children.

The Humans

Director: Wes Anderson

Writers: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Roald Dahl (book)

Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver

Voice Cast: George
Clooney. Meryl Streep. Jason Schwartzman. Bill Murray. Michael Gambon. Owen Wilson. Willem Dafoe. Wally Wolodarsky. Eric Anderson. Brian Cox.


The
Nutshell


Mr. Fox (Clooney) and his dangerous lifestyle almost cost him and his gal (Streep) back in the day, but after promising to quit a life of stealing chickens he’s settled down nicely as a newspaper reporter and become a family man. But Mr. Fox is a wild animal and complacency has gotten under his skin. When a fancy new home doesn’t solve his ills, he decides to embark on the caper of his lifetime even if it costs him his life, his family, and the safety of all the animals he shares a community with.

The Lowdown

This is one of the most uniquely creative movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s funny, adorable, and bursting at the seams with genuine warmth. In a year where a film like The Blind Side pulls at people’s emotions gratuitously and somehow benefits from it, this is effortless is conveying actual emotion and timeless familial relationships and with tiny little handmade puppets no less. Astonishing stuff. It helps that Anderson has created a nice assortment of talents to serve as the voices of his creatures, but there’s not one instance of the personality overriding the character, something that is the cause of many films in the animated family film genre losing their effectiveness.

That said, the thing that makes this movie truly something special is how Wes Anderson’s aesthetic and devotion to little moments flourishes in this method of filmmaking. It’s as if this little children’s movie has distilled all that makes his work crackle and discarded the stuff that keeps it from connecting on a wider, more resonant level.



All of the things that make his films work [and I am a big fan] are here. The attention to detail. The family dynamics. The detached retro feel. The melancholy glaze conflicting with reckless abandon and wonder. The little asides that make all the difference. And Bill Murray. Definitely Bill Murray. They are all here and I defy someone who’s watched his work not to feel it coursing throughout this production.

It’s a Wes Anderson film, evident from the first frame and seeping from every one that follows whether it be the furnishings (Tenenbaums), dissections of an act (Rushmore), the way the capers are handled (Bottle Rocket), the cross sections (The Life Aquatic), or the way all the different character types fit together (Darjeeling). It also showcases talent working outside their own wheelhouse in a lot of ways. Clooney is fabulous but doesn’t get to use his physical attributes and charisma, instead infusing Mr. Fox with a different kind of energy and verve. Meryl Streep (Angelica Huston must have been busy) is almost unrecognizable as Mrs. Fox, and Bill Murray as Badger also does very subtle stuff here. The real standouts are Jason Schwartzman as Ash, Walla Wolodarsky as Kylie the opossum, and the immortal Michael Gambon as Franklin Bean. It doesn’t help that the source material and writing tandem of Anderson and Noam Baumbach have given them fun and fresh stuff to say, but even with my eyes closed this film just sings to me.




Though it’s quite a nice moralistic tale of growing up and accepting responsibility and losing the selfishness of youth, Fantastic Mr. Fox works on a variety of levels just as successfully. There’s a love of adventure running through the film that works so well in this format. Even though the action scenes in The Life Aquatic were fun, they were fun because we were watching a Wes Anderson movie with machine gun fights. The action here as delivered by the amazing skills of Mark Gustafson and a crew of top-notch modelers and animators has a beautiful blend of old school kinetic cartoon hi-jinks and laid-back oddness the likes of which only Wes Anderson could do. It’s effective, awe-inspiring in its attention to detail, and some of the cutest shit you’ll ever see.

It helps cut some of the subject matter. It’s a PG film but there’s some death here and the stakes are pretty high for our heroes. Couple that with moments where kids risk their lives because they don’t feel adequate, gun toting psychopathic farmers, drunken rats with stilettos, and there’s some stuff here that may have come off a lot darker had it all not been so damn sweetly rendered and cut with ample amounts of humor and sleight of hand.

Kids are going to miss a lot of the relationship stuff, all of which is handled incredibly more maturely than in other kids films. They’re not going to realize the severity of why the Fox family has a house guest. Not going to realize what a rabid beagle could potentially do. Why Mr. Bean’s kid acts so silly. Why Mr. Fox’s midlife crisis is both so accurate and dangerous. There’s a lot of meat, but it’s all delivered sweetly and on the sly that it seeps in subconsciously.

I played this film for my daughter last weekend and by the ten minute mark her mother and grandmother were equally rapt with attention. All laughed at different moments, appreciated different aspects of it, while being entertained by all of it. It takes a special breed of film to connect like that.



A quick rundown of some of the fantastic little things about this flick:

The way the characters all use the word “cuss” in lieu of profanity. The way the opossum’s eyes glaze over. The way Ash spits. Explosive pine cones. The way the animals are when swept up in the current. The inexplicable tiny motorbike with sidecar. The inexplicable stunt ramp. Spiked blueberries being the weapon of choice against Beagles. When Kristofferson (the perfect cousin who comes to live with Mr. Fox) does his high dive. “No, you’re not. You’re disloyal.” The rundown of each animal’s Latin name and special skill. Tiny bandit hats. Toast evisceration. The father/son talks. And every moment Franklin Bean is being an asshole, the coup de grace being the screen cap that ends this article.

This is a movie about love and accepting things for what they are and countless other familiar themes but as a movie just laced with tons of sublime and adorable little moments, it’s good enough on those merits alone. Where the Wild Things Are is this iconoclastic aggressive and beautiful romp and this is a quiet and small movie with not a dash of the self indulgence some of Wes Anderson’s films are criticized for. Two sides of the same coin, these two films have flat out thrown the gauntlet to everyone out there that as good as computer animation can get there’s still plenty of life left in the life action and old school styles of filmmaking, whether it be for kid’s films or adult narrative.

I’m not a giddy
person. It’s one of the last adjectives one would use for me, right
after “tall” and “polished”. I am giddy watching this movie. I look
around my house and ponder all of the film related knickknacks I’ve
accumulated over the years. None of the geeky toys and stuff I have ever
owned comes close to this stuff. Had this movie been as well received
as other animated features in recent memory or perhaps had the marketing
machine that Coraline
[which Henry Selick left this film to do] had, there’s a chance I could
have had a Mr. Bean’s Alcoholic Cider Cellar Playset with a little
knife-wielding rat. The level of detail and little cute touches delivers
the right kind of geek-out. The love of their work by the creators
shows in every nuance of this movie and it makes me giddy. This film is
going to reach out and touch a handful of people who help keep this art
form vital through the next generation.

There isn’t a scene in this movie that doesn’t achieve some sort of amazing bit of ingenious use of its army of adorable creatures, brilliant tiny sets, or manner in which it achieves something we take for granted like smoke, water, or the flick of a match. For something so beautiful and fun, it doesn’t have one moment where it takes a “look at me” approach. It’s like one of Wes Anderson’s characters (by way of the untouchable Roald Dahl of course), deceptively sly, unassuming, and insanely lovable.

A beautiful, charming, and inspiring movie and the best movie Wes Anderson has ever made.

The
Package

Here’s where paradise runs into a hiccup. If ever there was a movie where the bizarre behind-the-scenes process could have been documented and shared, this is the one. Apparently the film was directed via email. Think of the possibilities.

What we do get is minimalism on a few of the aspects of the process and they’re decent featurettes but all they really do is whet the appetite. Though I don’t think there will be some double dip on this film in the near future laden with features I harbor hope that one day it catches on enough to warrant a Criterion like Bottle Rocket and Rushmore got. It’s good enough and a DVD of this should truly embrace and celebrate what a massive success this is on every level.

All this did was piss me off and leave me wanting as far as features go.


9.5
out of 10

Gaze upon its beauty:











And one of the funniest and most delightful moments of 2009: