As we continue to make our way through Roald Dahl January, I can’t help but think this has been one of my favorite months for this thread. Of course, this particular January is stuffed with five Thursdays, so I am going to have to dig deep to find five film adaptations of this man’s brilliant work. The flip side to that coin is, getting to spend just a little bit more time immersed in the many wonderful creations of Mr. Dahl. And here, today, the 16th of the month, I may have run into one of my favorites. This throwback diverges from the previous ones this month in that not only have I never seen this film before but I have yet to get to the book upon which it’s based. Since the film is relatively new, it’s more understandable to miss out on that; but missing out on a book I should have grown up reading? What happened?! While it’s been a long journey in getting to this one, it was far more worth the wait than I could have imagined.
Today’s food for thought: Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Release: November 25, 2009
One just has to wonder what this film might have been like had it been released much earlier, and had it been placed into the hands of someone other than the great Wes Anderson, for there is no denying that while this is a Roald Dahl story, the film product is the epitome of Wes Andersonian filmography.
Where does one start to review a film as mesmerizing as this? There’s a myriad of things that work for this stop-animation comedy that deals with a particularly clever fox who can’t help but revert to his animalistic ways by stealing chickens from farmers. One of the more logical places to start might be the animation itself. As noted in previous throwbacks, Dahl’s children’s books were infused with a palpable sense of danger and all possessed considerably dark thematic elements that distinguish his style.
While the decision to use this amusing form of animation does help to soften some of the more adult concepts presented, stop animation in many other ways enhances the peculiarities of Dahl’s visions. From the way these animals and critters move — sometimes at hilarious speeds — to the personalities the animation endows each one of them with, one can only hope Dahl might have approved of this rather modern adaptation (he hated the way Mel Stuart brought Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to life on-screen).
Currently having the distinction of being the most contemporary/recent adaptation of any Roald Dahl book, Fantastic Mr. Fox just as easily should be recognized for possessing one of the most stacked casts doing impressive voice over work in an animated feature. Those who dropped whatever they were doing and ran to join Anderson’s side this time around include George Clooney as Mr. Fox; Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox; Willem Dafoe as the Rat; and Adrien Brody as the Field Mouse. Of course, there are the Anderson regulars: Bill Murray joins as Badger, Fox’s lawyer; Jason Schwartzman gets grumpy as Ash, the Fox family’s youngest cub; brother Eric Anderson voices Kristofferson, Ash’s strange cousin; and Owen Wilson has a brief albeit humorous turn as Coach Skip, an athletic trainer at Ash’s school. With names like this dominating an extensive cast, the film instantly gets deeper. Nevermind the intelligent script and the delightful little story.
George and Meryl give the foxes unforgettable personalities as two adventurous foxes who once got a kick out of stealing chickens from farmers, but when Felicity tells the mister about being pregnant, it’s clear they have to find a new, safer way of living. With Ash around now, the family must settle into life in a hole, although Mr. Fox knows he can provide better for his family. He wants to move them into the giant tree they’ve been living underground by for twelve (fox) years. Unable to suppress his animal instincts, he starts eying three infamously dangerous and hostile farms, overlooked by some truly nasty men, eying them on a daily basis to see how many chickens he can afford to get away with stealing. He just can’t let the wife know, though.
So he enlists the help of an awkward fellow named Kylie Sven Opossum (voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky), and his nephew (since Kristofferson has proven himself a valuable asset to this mission, a fact that does not sit well with son, Ash) in his quest to do one last big job. In three nights, the pair snatch a couple of birds from the farms and attempt to make off with some alcoholic cider brewed by the meanest of the lot — the turkey and apple farmer, Frank Bean. Naturally, things go awry and the trio incur the wrath of these farmers who will stop at nothing to rid their farms and the town of these pesky animals.
Over the course of an hour and a half, journey into the gold-tinged world of Wes Anderson and company as the brilliant Fox makes moves to intentionally help those who he loves the most while also making mistakes that unintentionally endanger the entire population of the local animal community. Watch as the farmers employ increasingly hostile tactics to sniff out the foxes from the holes into which they have tunneled deeply and watch as they hilariously fail more often than they succeed. The entire experience is something of a revelation if you have never seen a stop-animation film before; although the film makes such good use of it that even if this kind of artistry isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll still find yourself grinning ear-to-ear thanks to an intelligently drafted script and well-defined characters.
Anderson’s adaption is an achievement. Its Oscar nominations were rightfully earned (damn you, Up). Not only is the story completely immersive, characters this endearing are rare to find, even by Pixar standards (the fact that this is not one of their creations frankly makes the film feel that much more original). The voice work is note-perfect for every character, with Clooney leaving the most lasting impression, while Murray’s character makes badgers everywhere look decent.
Recommendation: A wonderful, wonderful little gem of a film, Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s biggest accomplishment is having universal appeal. There’s arguably more that satiates mature viewers’ desires to see the world recreated in more simplistic terms than a child’s wanting to see a fox talking and burrowing tunnels at insane speeds. Those things are good too. Not only is this a great family film, it’s a timeless classic. Fans of Wes Anderson obviously have almost no excuse for missing this one, either. (How crazy is this, by the way? We are now 3-for-3 for perfect scores in the month of January. . .so much for unbiased reviews, right?)
Running Time: 87 mins.
Quoted: “Am I being flirted with by a psychotic rat?”
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