29 December 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach
Full credits at IMDb

Miss The Fantastic Mr. Fox’s opening credits and you’d still figure out, in a matter of minutes, that this is a Wes Anderson movie; all of his trademark motifs are there: the on-screen text; the deep album soundtracking (“Heroes and Villains”!); the horizontal compositions; the astounding level of detail. But it’s also animated in stop motion, making it the divisive director’s most visually complex film yet. It’s also his funniest, his most emotionally rich, his most thematically complex, and his first political picture. It’s not only one of the year’s best movies—it’s Anderson’s long-missing masterpiece, the film for which fans have been waiting since the director followed up near-perfect The Royal Tenenbaums with a couple of (wonderful but) regressive digressions.

Adapted by Anderson and sometimes-collaborator/director-in-his-own-right Noah Baumbach from Roald Dahl’s children’s book—retaining some of the narrative shape while piling on complicating layers—The Fantastic Mr. Fox revolves around the title character (voiced by George Clooney), whose central dilemma is similar to that of Mr. Incredible: he has promised his wife he won’t do the dangerous thing he’s good at anymore—here, catching chickens—but he can’t control himself, even after having switched careers to become a newspaperman (a choice that reflects Anderson’s love of the anachronistic). It’s a classic case of the human, er, vulpine nature versus the refining forces of civilization. “How can a fox ever be happy,” Mr. Fox muses, “without a chicken in its teeth?”

He plots one last great scheme, which attracts an Old Testament-level of vengeance from the mean, nasty, ugly English farmer-barons he’s wronged, who sport the deliciously Dahlian names of Boggis, Bunce and Bean. An endless stream of one-liners and running gags—as painstakingly calculated and contained as the film’s startling mise-en-scene (because the characters and sets are constructed models, the frames are exponentially more detailed than Anderson’s usual sets; he not only revels in the minutiae here, he must)—flow through the film’s action-packed structure: one heist and scheme after another. But the film’s charmingly creaky sheen doesn’t obscure the dark emotional core; The Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn’t feign ignorance of the natural world’s violence: Anderson’s foxes eat like animals, ferociously scattering their food with their maws. An old man has a real tantrum and trashes his trailer; an unctuous, serpentine rat suffers an inglorious death. There are inter-family jealousies and humiliations (Mr. Fox’s son suffers from a cousin rivalry, as well the pains of being overshadowed by an accomplished father), welling eyes and ferocious anger. Mrs. Fox, exasperated with her husband for the trouble he has caused, scratches his face, leaving claw marks, drawing not only blood from her husband but tears. Heartbreaking tears. “Why’d you lie to me?” she asks. “Because I’m a wild animal,” he answers.

Anderson’s films have always been about self-obsessed characters, navigating their own hermetic relationships without an eye for the larger world or communities around them. Mr. Fox breaks with that tradition, largely a result of the source material. On one level, the film seems to be about animal rights—or, at least, for the rights of animals to be treated like animals. (Not in the Cartesian sense!) On another, it’s about a working class revolution against the ruling class, pitting the humble and inclusive animals against a stingy cabal of homogenous monopolizers. Anderson’s most radical suggestion—and this certainly isn’t from Dahl—might be that, between animal rights and workers rights, there’s little distinction. Grade: A+

Watch the trailer:

1 comment:

james flames said...

Apparently living in a second rate city such as mine means I have to rush to see movies like this one...cuz it's already gone from all theaters within a 50 mile radius, and I heven't had the chance to see it yet. Totally bummed.