TBT: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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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

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Release: November 25, 2009

[Netflix]

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).

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Good old Bill, getting into the proper. . .head space. . .for his role.

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.

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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.

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4-5Recommendation: 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?)

Rated: PG

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “Am I being flirted with by a psychotic rat?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.ramweb.org; http://www.imdb.com

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32 thoughts on “TBT: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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  5. This is moving up to be one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies of all time. It’s interesting to read that Dahl hated “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” It would be nice to read what he thought of this. Great review

    • Hey Vern, thanks so much for stopping on over dude. I have always been curious about why he didn’t like WW. The movie was quite good, and I thought true to the book. Had I read Fantastic Mr. Fox I might be able to give a guess as to what he would have thought of Anderson’s take. I’m sure he’d poopoo it too, heard he was a grumpy old man. Great author though. And here’s a great director!

    • Thanks Dustin, sorry Im late in replying to you. Id have to strongly agree man, this was a great great movie. Only watched it thru once but I might have to rent it back out (or buy it) since it’s such a high quality picture. The animation is so fun to watch on top of everything else.

    • Oh my goodness, yes you should!!! Its such a wonderful little film, and one of the more different directorial choices for Anderson, so I’d say this is one you can watch even if you’re not so much of a fan of the guy. If you do like his style, though, then it doesn’t get much better than Fantastic Mr. Fox! 😀

      (Sry I overlooked this comment btw)

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    • man I hope you enjoy it then, cuz I think Wes Anderson is definitely THE guy to remake Dahl books. This was, as the title says, Fantastic! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by bud

  7. Great review. I loved this fim. So funny, with great writing and voice work. The stop-motion is also very charming. 2009 was a great year for animated films, with this one, Coraline and Up.

    • hey man sorry i took a minute getting back to ya!

      I haven’t seen those other two animations that you mentioned but this one is great and that’s enough for me to agree with you that ’09 was a good year in the animation department. 🙂

      This might be one of my all-time favorites, I like it that much. Just, awesome.

      • It’s OK 😉

        You really need to check out Coraline and Up. Little animated gems, I think.

        And I LOVE Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s right below Tenenbaums in my favorite Wes Anderson films.

    • Exactly my sentiments Mark. It is certainly a strange animal. Haha. get it?

      But yeah, I buy into the quirkiness of Anderson’s direction hook-line-and-sinker each and every time. I love the guy.

  8. I have been loving this Roald Dahl January Tom! Fun, fun, fun! I really liked The Fantastic Mr Fox, it was actually quite enjoyable! Excellent review you have here, yet again!

    • what’s up Zoe. heheh it does seem like a random month to dedicate throwbacks to him since I think his birthday was in October (or November?). . .but yeah, I just felt the urge to do it. It’s been a lot of fun and glad that’s the case with you as well.

      When you say ‘actually quite enjoyable’. . .were you not necessarily expecting it to be so? 🙂

      • Ah doesn’t matter when you chose to do it, it’s a great theme!

        Not necessarily, but I hadn’t heard one thing about it when I came across it by accident, and I enjoyed the book growing up and was afraid (like most book adaptions), the story would be destroyed. It was also an animation (there are so many that I love but SUCH a mission to get me to watch), but everything came together so well here and was tons of fun!

      • Understand that for sure. This animated version is what I would imagine to be a spot-on adaptation. I really really regret not reading the book as a kid. Grrr….

  9. I am so happy you love this film. It’s not only my favorite Wes Anderson flick, but it’s one of my most favorite movies of all time. It’s an absolute perfection “animated” film and I agree that it’s easily one of the best Dahl adaptations out there, especially considering the production quality and like you said, one hell of a voice cast. So cussin’ perfect.

    • Oh cuss!! I was trying to work a clever way to use that in my reviews. . I thought it was fantastic that instead of using so much as one ‘damn’ or whatever (cuz I think PG’s can get away with at least one swear word) they chose to go with using the word ‘cuss.’ It served as one more example of this film’s brilliance. I’m definitely buying this one. It’s truly great. Glad to know we’re eye-to-eye on it Nick

    • Glad to hear that Ruth. It is a really, really strong contender for one of my favorite animated films ever. I simply adored every bit of it. 🙂 And yes, good old Bill is in fine form as well.

    • Ok, phew! So I wasn’t the *only* one. 😀

      Can’t wait until you do see it man, it’s great. I never thought of Clooney as a voice actor (ditto that to Meryl Streep), but surprisingly their A-list status doesn’t distract too much in the story.

  10. Good review Tom. It was such a bold move on Anderson’s part, but it worked out pretty damn well as he was able to use transcend his quirky sense of style into the world of animation. Also, the cast he got together was pretty impressive, if only the two, “new” add-ons were George Clooney and Meryl Streep.

    • THanks bud, I agree completely. I enjoyed every single second of this film. Stop animation often is weird, but between this, James & the Giant Peach and of course, the Wallace & Gromit shorts, I think it’s a great way to tell stories. I might be buying this film since I rented it from Netflix and can’t keep it!

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