Monday, February 8, 2010
This movie was even better than I expected it might be. I shouldn't have really been surprised though, given that Fantastic Mr. Fox is a Wes Anderson adaptation of excellent source material from Roald Dahl, the master alchemist of childhood sadism and whimsy. Though, like many good adaptations, the movie takes some liberties with its source. It also features some ace voice talent, including many Wes Anderson regulars like Jason Schwarzman and Owen Wilson, as well as George Clooney and Meryl Streep.
If there was every any doubt of Anderson's status as an auteur (was there any doubt?) this should put it to rest. Even when working with stop action animation, every frame and every faltering voice is saturated with his influence. This film would be a great one for the argumentation of auteur theory in general. That's for all of my friends who are still in school.
In the story, Mr. Fox gives up a dangerous life of crime (the chicken-stealing variety) in order to become a family man. Of course, for foxes, theft is a more normative way of life than journalism, the position that Mr. Fox takes on for his wife's sake. In doing so, he apparently compromises both his foxhood and his masculinity, which is why he pulls the one last job that causes the calamitous events of the film to take place. Foxes are purportedly sly and underhanded, but the farmers are no less so as each group tries to upend the other. It is true, though, that the humans seem to favor the more offensive approach, bringing in the heavy artillery, like backhoes and bombs. They are not subtle. The foxes are content in their subversion, sneakily tunneling their way into the farmers' food stores.
The composition of each frame in this film is impeccably detailed, making the little world that Anderson creates as lush as it is idiosyncratic. One thing he injects in his version, which I don't believe is in Dahl's, is a heightened dichotomy between animal instincts and anthropomorphic qualities. These animals are fully civilized, but will erupt into sudden fits of animal behavior in the most jarring of moments. Though the foxes sit at a table to eat, and seem to be schooled in culinary arts, they have a proclivity to tear into their baked chicken as if it was an antelope felled on the savannah. The critters live in detailed human-like establishments, but when the roof is torn off of their abodes, they quickly join forces to dig themselves into safety.
At the very end of the film, the foxes solve their hunger problem by digging into a grocery store, where they can steal food to their heart's content. The only problem is that the food is canned imitations of the real foods they formerly enjoyed. Perhaps they are becoming too human for their own good. Or they are adapting, like animals do. In another, more mysterious scene, Mr. Fox and the kids encounter a distant, lone wolf, but are unable to communicate with him; he will not respond to English or French, but he does respond to a fist pumped in the air. They wish him luck as he scampers into the woods on all fours. Is this distant figure what the foxes, so enmeshed in human life, aspire to be?
Other notable quirks are the demarcation of time in both fox and human time, and Mrs. Fox's doom-laden landscape paintings, each one spiked with lightning. Not to mention that the unique animation style is a nice break from smooth and immaculate Pixar creations. Its palette is washed out, its movement jerky and uncomfortable. The proportions of human to fox are totally off. It's pretty awesome, in short.