REVIEW: Fantastic Mr. Fox

30 11 2009

It might not seem odd at first, but soon after being immersed in the world of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” you are bound to notice that all the characters are saying the word cuss, used as a substitute for any necessary expletives, with great frequency.  In a brilliant stroke of ingenious mischief, Wes Anderson finds a way to tone down the movie with dumbing it down.  He takes everything that audiences love about his live-action features – the dysfunctional families, the eclectic music, the geometric shots, the conscious cinematography, and all the quirks – and refuses to surrender to the family movie.  Style intact, Anderson makes a movie that audiences will realize isn’t all that different from his other pictures.

The cast of characters might seem a little bit familiar to fans of Anderson’s work.  Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a flawed father struggling to accept his responsibilities to his family, and he yearns for his furtive days of hunting.  Trying to rediscover his true self, he embarks on a series of ultimately successful raids on the crotchety neighboring farmers with the wonderfully neurotic opossum Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky).  This is all to the dismay of Mrs. Felicity Fox (Meryl Streep), his caring but somewhat disapproving wife.  Knowing Wes Anderson, the family drama can’t end there.  Their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), can’t seem to live up to his father’s legacy.  In addition, he begins to feel like second fiddle to his dad when naturally gifted cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes to stay with the family.  The classic “hunted become the hunters” story intertwines with the family turmoil as Mr. Fox angers the dim-witted farmers adjacent to their dwelling.  Using their wile, the rodents are able to outsmart and outmaneuver their foes.

The visual style of the film is quite striking.  In true Wes Anderson fashion, he uses the unconventional motion capture method rather than animated through computers or by hand.  It is not meant to look incredibly realistic (cotton balls for smoke and rabies?), but the filmmakers do go to painstaking lengths to make it look fascinatingly surreal.  In fact, it almost has a dream-like quality.  They even figure out a way to make the hairs on the foxes’ beards billow in the wind.  The artistic expression manifested in the look of the film is almost like a portal into Anderson’s imagination.  As anyone who appreciates his work, that’s pretty cussing awesome.

The spirit behind the voices matches their zany intensity in Anderson’s exciting screenplay.  He rounds up some of the usual suspects like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman, but also brings in some exciting new talent like Clooney and Streep.  Anderson brought out the character within them by holding recording sessions in odd locations such as attics and stables, and the passion that they put into it becomes almost palpable.  They make the off-kilter humor glow, particularly Wallace Wolodarsky as Mr. Fox’s super, the opossum Kylie.  Channeling a pathetic Woody Allen, Wolodarsky makes every line a funny line.

A movie that is both juvenile and mature, light and serious, surreal and real, unorthodox and down-to-earth, and bizarre and relatable might seem somewhat paradoxical.  But with charisma and charm, Wes Anderson uses “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to show us that it is possible.  His movie is pure bliss to watch, an enchanting piece of moviemaking prowess.  A- /

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