on August 9, 2010
Ordinarily, I watch a movie one time. On rare occasion, twice. Has to be a really special movie (or highly quotable, a la Caddyshack or Pulp Fiction) for me to desire multiple viewings.
That said, I can't stop watching "The Fantastic Mr. Fox". The animation is fascinating, the voices are perfect, and the writing and vibe are pure Wes Anderson. On every subsequent viewing, more details come to light. The expressions on the faces of the characters, the way they eat (you'll have to see it), etc. Can't stop watching. Every wordless gesture invites repeated viewing. i.e., something as simple as Kylie shrugging his shoulders and grinning caused me to watch it over and over. Same with Ash turning to look at the camera after a redemption of sorts.
I'm almost embarrassed by how much I like this movie. I'm 46 years old, for crying out loud. But I do.
on August 17, 2010
When I saw previews for this film in the theatre, by wife and I exchanged eye-rolls. So when I borrowed a friend's copy out of sheer boredom with the current panoply of predictable, music video children's films, my expectations were low. In fact, we began this film close to the kid's bedtime so I'd have a reasonable excuse to bail out early.
Well, the kids loved this movie and so did I. It's wonderfully paced, the animal characters are idiosyncratic and immensely likable, and the dialogue is conversational and amusing. I don't like when an animated children's film includes a stratum of adult innuendo. That, to me, is targeted marketing, and those carefully distributed oblique references that make mom and dad chuckle exist to compensate for a weak story. No gimmicks here. Funny situations, cleverly crafted characters, technically superb animation, and a novel story.
We've must've seen it 10x since that first night. Any other film and I would have accidentally lost the video by now.
When we meet Mr. Fox he's in a bind - he and Mrs. Fox get caught in a trap and she tells him she's pregnant and he promises never ever but never again to risk his life taking from farmers. He'll get a respectable job, as a columnist for the local paper, but two years later (12 in fox years) they have a misfit teen and a visiting cousin and Mr. Fox is feeling middle aged and anxious, and itchy for the danger and criminal excitement of stealing poultry.
He's a wild animal at heart, he insists, not made to settle down into age and oblivion. He comes up with a plan, and along with his friend, the possum plumber, plans one last heist, not just any heist but the big one, stealing from the fiercest farmers around: Boggis, Bunce and Bean (you know: one fat, one short, one lean, but uniformly mean). They don't take it lying down. Mr. Fox's carefree and careless indiscretions turn into an all out war between the farmers and the animals, and everyone will have to work together and set aside rivalries and resentment and hurt feelings. The danger is real, and they take unnecessary risks, but they have a lot of fun and adventure along the way.
I really dig the quirky and stylish vibe of the irresponsibly fantastic Mr. Fox. Voiced by George Clooney with flair and a fancy whistle and a click, and animated in a silly and stylish retro stop motion approach. It's a very fun film, and my wife and I loved it and laughed out loud, a lot, but so did our kids (and so, apparently, did lots of others who couldn't stop busting up or exclaiming around us in the theaters). The film's got something for everyone, and stays true to the feel of Roald Dahl's classic tale while giving it the whimsical feel and quirky delights that can only be found in a Wes Anderson film. The retro-stylish clothing and settings and the family dynamics, especially that between a larger than life but aloof father and a struggling son (played perfectly by Jason Schwartzmann), fit easily into his oeuvre. I loved the look of the film, the delightful attention to detail, the colors and lighting were perfect, and the deliberately low tech touches, where you could see the ruffling hair and wobbling of water, just add to the charm. Great stuff, highly recommended.
Frankly, they had me by opening the movie with "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," which by the way, is mistakenly listed in the credits as performed by The Wellingtons. Actually it is the soundtrack version by the MelloMen, but I've seen it mislabeled elsewhere too. And the highly underrated "Love" from "Robin Hood." How nice.
The entire score is as unconventional as the film -- dominated by banjo and rhythm tracks to give it an "independent film" texture rather than the now-obligatory John Williams-type score (not that I don't love those scores too, this is just a fresh approach and avoids the modern factory film feel).
Even the titles are clever, all in keeping not only with a singular director's vision, but also very much in the Roald Dahl style. This particular book, by the way, is perhaps one of the most challenging to bring to film since it is one of the few Dahl stories without magical fantasy elements.
I think the overall takeaway, and the thread through all the other comments on this topic is -- intelligence. That's a prized commodity in so much of today's entertainment, animated or otherwise. This is a film as smart as a fox.
on December 12, 2009
It's been a long time since I've seen a movie like this. At first, the animation looks a little cheap. The walks aren't that realistic. But after you get into the story, you don't care. The world is textured. It's beautiful. We don't see this kind of movie anymore, this stop-motion, and I don't know if it's simply just been too long since I've seen other stop-motion films like Chicken Run or what--I was enthralled.
This movie did not have an overly-typical storyline, but at the same time, it was not devoid of one either. The jokes were not written to try and provoke you to laugh out loud; you'll simply find them funny, perhaps to chuckle. But the thing I really loved about the movie was this--there was a lot of life in the film. Real life, something I identified with in the characters.
Don't expect a typical Phase 1, Phase 2, Climax, Ending, kind of film. Don't expect to be drawn into the story and be spit back out. This isn't exactly a story that ends with a clever line--it ends with the characters dancing. But I can guarantee you that you will enjoy this movie. It wasn't a "good" movie. It wasn't a "bad" movie. It was an "enjoyable" movie. And it's a higher honor to be an enjoyable movie rather than just a "good" one.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox isn't a roll of the floor funny type film, but it is one of the funniest films I've seen all year. The film moves along at a quick pace and while no one joke blows you away that fact the it remains funny from start to finish is an achievement that is seldom, well.....achieved!
The animation is quirky almost trippy, kind of like Robot Chicken and Adult Swim type stuff. The voice acting is also strong with Clooney, Murray and company giving the furry characters life. I may not have laughed so hard my stomach ached, but I had a smile on my face from start to finish and that doesn't happen often enough. The DVD transfer looks great, but the extras are pretty bland.
My family and I saw FANTASTIC MR. FOX on Thanksgiving, one of the busiest movie-going evenings of the year. We were in a group of about 30 folks watching this film...a sad statement. It's one of the wittiest (not just funny, but witty) animated films in a long time, and a truly original piece of filmmaking. When movies like PLANET 51 or ...CHANCE OF MEATBALLS can make 5 times as much at the box office, I can only bemoan how many people have caused their kids (and themselves) to miss out on the experience of seeing how challenging films can be, and how much FUN that can be.
Director Wes Anderson is one of my favorite filmmakers. I know there are MANY people who agree, and MANY MORE who disagree fairly vehemently. For everyone who loved DARJEELING LIMITED, many more found it inert, pretentious, boring or unemotional. Ditto ROYAL TENNANBAUMS. Double ditto LIFE AQUATIC. I admit, Anderson can be a bit "clever" in his style. He films everything from a lower than usual angle. His camera either sits still or moves side to side...seldom in and out. He keeps us at a distance this way...much like his characters tend to be emotionally distant or shut off. The humor in his scripts is often dry and laced with sadness. When his characters to express their emotional sides, it comes in short bursts that demonstrates a form of being stunted. His characters are super smart, and very unwise.
Yet in FANTASTIC MR. FOX, even Anderson's critics are finding much to love. The same filmmaking style is there, but there is also something charming about the way in which he trains his camera on these awkwardly animated figures. They are frequently filmed at "odd" angles, but what this does is allow us to SEE more of the character than we might in a more traditionally framed movie. His reduced depth-of-field works even better with animation...particularly animation this "crude." (It isn't really crude, don't freak out.)
Adapted from the Roahld Dahl story, MR. FOX follows its title character...a dashing, daring young scoundrel of a fox who gives up his dangerous life of chicken-thieving and living on the edge in order to settle down with the love of his life and have a family. Skip ahead some time, and the Foxes are living in an underground den, where dad is a newspaper reporter (an endangered species?) and his son constantly disappoints him by having a singularly UNdaring nature. Fox is a good husband and father, but his true nature constantly nags at him, and in a mad burst, he purchases an above ground tree in which to live. And from there, he can clearly see the facilities of three big, evil farmers. And it's a short step from there to returning (albeit without telling his wife) to a life of thieving and trickery. It makes him feel young again and makes him feel he's being true to his nature. It also gets him, his family and the whole animal community into some SERIOUS trouble.
There really isn't much to the plot, per se. The film is more about little incidents, observations and conversations. And it's all shown to us via stop-motion animation. These furry animals move in a manner frankly reminiscent of the original KING KONG. We see their fur move from frame to frame, where the animators clearly were manipulating the little creatures. They are primitively constructed...and yet the film is 100% true to its own aesthetic throughout. While many scenes look flat (and everything is brown)...there is a feeling of life in every moment. It may be the rippling fur, and it may be the outstanding voice work.
George Clooney plays Mr. Fox and his wife is voiced by Meryl Streep. Jason Schwartzmann is their cowardly, clumsy son. These 3 work together very well, and although I wasn't sitting there the whole time noticing that stars were doing the voices...there was also a sense of familiarity that was very welcome. Clooney has become a master of the "wacky" character (MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, BURN AFTER READING, LEATHERHEADS)...and this movie shows that it is his voice as much as his physicality that makes this work. Schwartzmann plays the "dreary" son much like we'd expect him to...infused with chagrin and sadness.
As I mentioned, Anderson's humor is often coupled with sadness...and we have that here too. Whether Fox is longing for his past life, or his wife wishes her husband was happy with what he had or their son wishes Dad was prouder of him...that sense of sadness is there. These are the richest animated characters in a long time (outside of most Pixar films)...and it's easy to care about these funny looking creatures. There are many delightful other characters as well, including badgers (Bill Murray, hilarious), moles and so on.
But the movie can be readily enjoyed without reading much into it. It's got loads of off-kilter humor (the shots of Fox eating are almost worth the price of admission!), a GREAT soundtrack (Anderson is almost as good as Tarantino at picking great music) and a satisfying conclusion, one that delivers a Hollywood feel, but is uniquely odd as well.
So please do yourself (and the film) a favor, and check out FANTASTIC MR. FOX. It is, indeed, fantastic.
I haven't seen a lot of films by Wes Anderson. I've seen (and loved) `The Royal Tenenbaums' and I saw (and found highly overrated) `Rushmore'. Even with only those two viewings though, it is apparent that Anderson has a unique style, visually as well as vocally. His humor is very dry to the point where he is either astonishingly clever or almost too gimmicky.
Ok, forget it. I was going to go into this longwinded (as usual) spiel about how Wes Anderson's style is apparent all over this film, but in a good way, but I'm getting too impatient.
All I want to say is, "THIS MOVIE IS FANTASTIC"!
If you know me then you know that I don't normally get overly excited about animated films. Sure, there are the occasional animated features that really reach me, but as a rule I'm not entirely drawn to them. There was something about this film though, that grabbed me from the first promo I saw. I just knew that I HAD TO SEE THIS! I took my daughter (my wife refused to go) and I liked it more than she did (to be fair, this is a very adult cartoon with mature humor and a bland color palate that fails to ignite the interest of a toddler). This is not you average `laugh out loud' type of comedy, but if you are familiar with Anderson then you know that that is not his style.
This humor is subtle yet totally spot on.
The story is that of Mr. Fox, a retired chicken thief who has settled into the life of husband and father, yet he still feels that aching need for adventure. When Mr. Fox attempts to get his thrills in by stealing from three very nasty men, he finds that these men will stop at nothing to destroy Mr. Fox and his family.
The voice work couldn't have been better. The deadpan delivery suits comic actors like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman effortlessly, but even George Clooney and Meryl Streep fall beautifully into line. Anderson's direction captures the humor in every scene, and his ascetic is seen all over the place, to glorious effect. I'd easily say that Schwartzman is best in show (I never thought I'd ever say that about him). His voice work totally embodies his character (Ash is just such a brilliant creation) to the point where his every word and action is undeniably unforgettable.
I will say this, the film is not really one I'd recommend for young children, you know, when they are going through that `impressionable stage'. Some of the dialog, while not explicit, could be objectionable to parents. If you don't want your children running around using the word `cuss' in place of colorful expressions you might want to keep them away from this. This is a Roald Dahl adaptation, so the darker themes are to be expected (there are some deaths on screen and some malicious violence), but they are handled with wit and cleverness (that "soap" line is priceless).
I totally recommend this for any adult willing to embrace his inner child!
on November 21, 2009
Wes Anderson's screenplay for the Roald Dahl classic Fantastic Mr. Box brings a refreshing update to the original with modern day elements such as conglomerates, yoga, bombs and supermarkets. The new storyline veers away from the original in a number of aspects but is entertaining nonetheless. It's really more for adults than the usual children classic.
The casting of George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Fox is the wisest and almost natural choice. Clooney's crafty voice and Streep's subtleness brings the animated puppets to life. Bill Murray voices the wise attorney Badger. The range of expressions on the characters and the comedic effects they bring shine throughout the movie. Interspersed within are songs from The Beach Boys and Jarvis Cocker. A-
on December 28, 2009
Filmmaker Wes Anderson is a specialist in comedies about the fault lines in the American dream. "Rushmore" concerns a prep school student, a middle-aged millionaire, and their romantic rivalry over a woman who doesn't want either of them. "The Royal Tennenbaums" examines a family of former prodigies and what happens when their estranged, deadbeat father re-enters their lives, while "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" imagines a Jacques Costeau type adventurer as a combination of Don Quixote and Captain Ahab. Anderson's new film, "Fantastic Mr. Fox," is the story of an aging family man who risks everything to recapture the thrill of his youth. It's set in an imaginary England where all the animal characters talk with American accents, and, along with the steampunk-influenced "Sherlock Holmes," it's one of the two new pictures I've most enjoyed this year.
Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) writes a newspaper column that even his friends don't seem to read, but it provides a comfortable living for his family. The trouble begins when he buys a new home near those of three grotesque farmers: rotund Boggis, dwarfish Bunce, and pencil-thin Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon), the smartest and most dangerous of the three. Mr. Fox, despite his promises to his wife Felicity (voiced to self-possessed perfection by Meryl Streep), reverts to his wild side in a series of nocturnal raids that brings down the wrath of the vindictive trio on himself, his family, and nearly all the wildlife in the area.
Even without all this, there's trouble in the Fox household between the Foxes' sad sack son, Ash, and his visiting cousin Kristofferson, a martial artist, athlete and student of Eastern meditation who outclasses him in just about everything. Ash responds with all the petty adolescent cruelties at his disposal, but he remains basically invisible to his father, a master thief and escape artist who can't understand why his son can't do much more than dress up like a comic book superhero.
The passage of time is an important part of this movie; two human years equals twelve fox years, and Mr. Fox notes that his father died at almost the same age he is now, leading him to wonder if he stopped being true to himself by giving up a life of crime; you get the feeling that he enjoys using the word "existential" without knowing what it means. It's underplayed, as all Wes Anderson comedies are underplayed, and the stop motion puppet animation looks, paradoxically, more lifelike than the typical CG animation we're now used to. One reason I find this movie so enjoyable is that it's an absurd, wickedly funny, thoughtful comedy that leaves the viewer time and room to think and savor the many verbal, visual, and musical jokes that pack the film (as opposed to the bludgeoning sitcom stupidity of most recent animated comedies).
I haven't found myself awaiting a home video release this eagerly in years.