It seems crazy that its been 2 ½ years since Wes Anderson’s last film, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Feels like it was not that long ago that I was putting the print together myself. I was shocked that in the 22 screen theater that I worked in, we were only getting one print of it. Surely the combination of a great director like Wes Anderson with a devout fan base and the appeal of a family film completely suitable for children opening right before Thanksgiving break would translate to a very good turn out. How wrong I was. The film struck out at the box office, but was a home run with critics and anyone else with half decent taste in movies.
I admit that I am completely unfamiliar with the source material for the movie. However, I am not unfamiliar with the author, Roald Dahl, who wrote some of my favorite books that I remember reading during my childhood like James & The Giant Peach, Danny: Champion Of The World, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory along with his autobiography centered on his childhood entitled Boy. Fantastic Mr. Fox seems to be held up along with his most popular works, so I have no doubt that it is of the same caliber. Turning a beloved childhood story into a feature film is a daunting task for any director. Usually there is about 20 minutes worth of actual story in most fairy tales and kids books, so turning 20 minutes into roughly 90 minutes is going to take some creativity. With a talented screenwriter and director you will get amazing results like Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox or Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. However, in the train wreck department we have the vile, terribly misguided Cat In The Hat adaptation, which may soon be gracing the Cinematic Putrescence section of this blog. So the film itself is not an easy task to assemble. Add in the fact that Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop motion animated film akin to Wallace & Gromit and I really believe that this is Wes Anderson’s most accomplished work as a filmmaker.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a typical fox in many ways. Mostly in the fact that he loves stealing chickens. Upon being caught in the act one night and with a baby one the way, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) asks him to give up his criminal career and fly the straight and narrow, so he can be a proper family man. Two years later, that’s 12 fox years, the two have a son named Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and Mr. Fox works as a newspaper columnist. They purchase a new home, which happens to be next to three very successful farms. The temptation is too much and Mr. Fox embarks on one last heist. The voice cast is grade A. Most of the actors in this had appeared in Anderson’s other films as well, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe & Michael Gambon to name a few. This makes for a familiar sensation. Also, Anderson has certain signature cinematic shots that he has brought to the animation world. His tendency for having a set appear bisected, for example, seeing every room in a house or compartments in a ship. The actors walking through the set like it was a living, breathing diorama. His main characters are always young men and/or their father figures. Both of which are having a difficult time finding acceptance or purpose within the world or with the other. This is his signature style and storytelling coming through, and the fact that this is undeniably a Wes Anderson film despite being animated is an amazing feat. I’ve never seen another filmmaker make that leap before.
I mentioned that I believe this is his most accomplished work. This might not be your favorite film that he’s done, it certainly isn’t mine, but as a filmmaker he is going to have to try very hard to top this when you look at the entire process of making this film. Stop motion animation is a labor of love, even more than film making is already. It has to be if its going to be done right. Nick Park, has spent the last 20+ years animating Wallace & Gromit. He’s put out 4 short films and 1 feature film in that span. It is incredibly time consuming and minutely detailed. I believe it took Anderson and his crew about 2 years to film Fantastic Mr Fox, which is very impressive. The screenplay that Anderson and Noah Baumbach put together is a ton of fun, and the cast just runs with it.
I can’t recommend strongly enough watching any of the films reviewed here at Filmsokay this past week, if you haven’t already seen them. Even if you have, they are more than worth another look. I’d like to close out with a preview of Wes Anderson’s next film Moonrise Kingdom. Enjoy.