At the Arthouse
Mr. Fox is fantastic
With Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson chose a surprising vehicle to jumpstart his stalled career. He arrived on the scene with a burst of giddy energy in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, but most of the work he’s done since then has felt bubble-wrapped in mere quirkiness, rather than artistic vision. Unable to sufficiently connect with Anderson’s interest in Jacques Cousteau, (or perhaps simply unable to make sense of the film’s title) audiences stayed away from TheLife Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and with his other recent films as well.
But now the Houston native (his mom is real estate titan Texas Anderson) has looked past the estimable Cousteau, all the way to the Roald Dahl books of his childhood. His often aggravatingly dilettantish mannerisms (his sometimes too-precise visuals, his cultivation of his characters’ eccentricities) are kept in check by Dahl’s dark vision of life, as expressed through the adventures of a jaunty fox who wants to have it all—very human domestic bliss combined with a little ‘wild animal’ action on the side.
The result is one of the year’s most satisfying films. Kept afloat by George Clooney’s buoyant line readings, and rendered surprisingly adult (and sexy) by Meryl Streep’s turn as Mrs. Fox (you just know that she has her own special ways of keeping Mr. Fox at home), the film truly seems made more for adults than for kids. Which is probably why the youngsters who watched the film with me laughed and cooed with delight throughout —they knew they were getting a taste of the life secrets that other children’s films so cruelly keep from them.
There are other fine voicers as well, especially Willem Dafoe as a semi-psychotic watch-rat who guards a cruel old farmer’s apple cider cellar, and Bill Murray as a lawyer who’s also a badger. But it’s the film’s visuals that carry you from scene to scene. Anderson made the film in stop-action animation. Actually, ‘had-it-made’ might be more appropriate, as, according to a recent New Yorker profile, he somehow directed the London-based animation team from the comforts of his Paris apartment. The visual result is surprisingly stunning.
I loved the stop-action animation in the original King Kong, and more recently in the Wallace & Gromit series as well, but I’m not sure I ever considered stop-action effects beautiful. But after watching in frank wonder as Mr. Fox gets chewed out by the missus in front of a rushing waterfall, and also while Mr. Fox and his good friend Kylie the possum (voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky) get elegantly electrocuted as they climb a security fence en route to a chicken heist, I was frankly swept away in the precision of the motions, and in the ‘quirks’ that the technique offers—which after all makes it perfect for our homegrown aesthete, Wes Anderson.