Fantastic Mr. Fox

Director    Wes Anderson
Starring    George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson
Release    25 NOV (US) 23 OCT (UK)    Certificate PG
3 stars


26th October 2009

Wes Anderson has always combined the neuroticism of Woody Allen with the visual flair of Michel Gondry to examine an assortment of fucked up families. Not exactly a winning formula for a kid's film, so it was a surprising move for Anderson to turn his attention to Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox. It shouldn't, but the melding of the over-active imaginations of Dahl and Anderson just about works.

The story of the dastardly Mr. Fox (smoothly voiced by George Clooney) and his battle of wits against farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean remains intact in the film. Mr. Fox steals from the farmers prompting them to demolish his home and force him quite literally underground. In a confrontation with the farmers, our foxy hero humiliatingly loses his tail.

Being fantastic however, Mr. Fox naturally comes up with an escape/revenge plan and tunnels underneath the farms, helping himself to chickens, ducks and cider while Boggis, Bunce and Bean camp out on the hillside waiting for him to re-emerge.

[gallery]So far, so Dahl. But Dahl's book does not provide enough material for a feature-length film, which leaves Anderson with enough scope to put his own stamp on it. Cue Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr. and Mrs. Fox's neurotic son. When cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes to stay, Ash's inferiority complex and daddy issues scale new heights.

Kristofferson is a natural athlete and all-round smartarse, whereas Ash is awkward and slightly effeminate - "different" as Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) tactfully puts it. Suddenly we're back on familiar Anderson territory. Too much of the film is devoted to Ash's mission to impress his fantastic father, sadly detracting from the main action.

The Anderson touch is also clearly visible in Mr. Fox's midlife crisis. He's prone to existential musings (leaving the kids in the audience pretty baffled), constantly trying to balance his instincts as a wild animal with his responsibilities to his wife, son and community.

This re-imagining of Mr. Fox is urbanised and modernised, no longer a quaint tale of woodland animals fighting for their rights against the mean farmers. Mr. Fox himself wants a slice of the industrial life, he is not content to live underground, he must have the best property his money can buy. Maybe he'd be truly happy if only he could have the latest gadget/car/shoes... we get it Anderson, message received loud and clear.

The film is littered with cameos from Anderson regulars like Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, and Anderson newbies - best of all, Jarvis Cocker as Bean's right-hand man, Petey. Michael Gambon provides the voice of chief villain Bean, managing to be menacing and suave at the same time. And that's what Brits do best isn't it? Menacing and suave? Yes, all the villains are British in this film, while the heroes are American, but so what? Brits make the best villains, ever was it thus and long may it continue.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is visually stunning. The old-school stop motion animation makes a welcome break from the computerised wizardry in current animated films and makes it distinct in its appearance. The soft orange glow of the film makes it utterly enchanting as well as technically impressive.

Despite this, strict Dahl purists probably won't like the Anderson treatment of Fantastic Mr. Fox. It would have been a better movie if Anderson had ditched the sentimentality and embraced the darker side of Dahl, making the villains a little more threatening. Dahl was never afraid to scare kids - and they loved him for it.

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