30
Dec
09

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Amusing? Yes. Fantastic? Not so much.

Featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, and Brian Cox. Directed by Wes Anderson. Based on the characters and book created by Roald Dahl.

“Boggis and Bunce and Bean, One short, one fat, one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean.”

So begins our tale of the Foxes; specifically, one Mr. Fox (Clooney). When the movie opens he’s doing stretches under a tree while listening to a radio playing the “Ballad of Davy Crockett.” When Felicity (Streep), a fellow fox, meets up with him he escorts her home but not before traveling an elaborately complex path through a farmhouse to steal some chickens. In a moment of weakness/curiosity, he trips the trap encaging them both. Felicity takes this time to tell him she’s pregnant and should they get out of the mess alive, he’s gonna have to find a new line of work.

Fast-forward twelve fox years. Mr. Fox and Felicity are now married, living in a hole in the ground and have a son named Ash (Schwartzman). Mr. Fox’s new line of work is newspaper columnist for the Gazette. Felicity cleans up around the home and helps raise Ash. Ash lives in his father’s shadow and seemingly can’t get out of it; he’s too short and in no way the athlete his father was.

Twelve years is a long time for any fox to stay the “straight and narrow,” and Mr. Fox is no exception. The first part of his “plan” is to move and against the advisement of his lawyer Badger (Murray), he moves to a tree within perfect view of the farms ran by Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Incidentally, his nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) shows up because his brother-in-law is in the hospital. Kristofferson is tall, thin, and athletic. He enjoys yoga meditations and has a want for moral accountability. The wheels begin to turn in Mr. Fox’s head…

Let me elaborate on B, B, and B. Boggis (Robin Hurlstone) is a medium-sized chicken farmer. Bunce (Hugo Guinness) is a shorter person who offers a little bit of everything but only eats duck liver. They are both trumped by Bean (Gambon): he farms turkeys and apples, as well as the best alcoholic cider ever made. Malcontent is putting it nicely for this guy; he drinks his apple cider and quietly smokes until Mr. Fox comes on the scene…

Which happens with the help of Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), a possum friend (and the tree’s superintendent) that Mr. Fox proposes “one last job” to. They break into Boggis’s farm and steal a couple of chickens. With the sudden “rush” of thieving again, Mr. Fox suggests a “triple-header,” going for Bunce and Bean’s farms as well. The raid on Bunce’s is a success. With the help of Kristofferson they ransack Bean’s but run into a psychotic, knife-wielding Rat (Dafoe). Even though the burglary was a success, it didn’t come without consequence: Mrs. Fox finds out and she is not happy, threatening to leave if Mr. Fox doesn’t change his ways.

Bean gets Boggis and Bunce together and pools all their resources to exterminate Mr. Fox and company. Following a shoot-out, Bean takes Mr. Fox’s tail as a trophy and uses it as a necktie. They go after his tree and the family burrows even farther down into the ground. Bean continues to come up with ways to hurt Mr. Fox and the ones he loves and lives with. Meanwhile, Mr. Fox gathers his community together to fight against B, B, and B. When Ash and Kristofferson go to retrieve Mr. Fox’s tail, Kristofferson is captured by Bean and is held hostage. With the stakes raised, the animal community in peril, and his nephew captured, Mr. Fox has to come up with a plan that’s “fantastic,” and fast.

So I’ll take a moment to correct myself. I define fantastic in the sense of “awe-inspiring, magical, almost fantasy-like,” which while it does have elements of fantasy, there aren’t too many of them (animal personification barely counts). According to the dictionary it’s “unrestrainedly fanciful; extravagant” and “based on or existing only in fantasy; unreal,” which the movie does achieve, so I guess I we may both be right.

While Mr. Fox is eccentric, the story felt ho-hum. Things just happen. Maybe I’m looking too deeply into this one. The point in the movie where the “stakes are raised” up until the end was done really well. I had no problem with the stop-animation used; that’s what drew me to see the movie. I didn’t mind the soundtrack which featured The Beach Boys, Jarvis Cocker, Burl Ives, and the Rolling Stones. I thought it was “cute” how, instead of cussing, he used the word “cuss.” For example: “What the cuss?” (fill in your own word). For the most part, the movie just felt lackluster.

I do give credit to Wes Anderson for trying something new. This is his first feature stop-animation movie. Instead of dealing with the problems of people who have money (“Rushmore,” “Tenenbaums,” “Life Aquatic,”) he went the opposite direction. I’ll give him fair credit and due on these things.

If you have kids who have an attention span, you may want to check this one out. It’s not a bad movie but I was expecting more.

Watch/listen for Wes Anderson regular Owen Wilson as Ash’s coach.

My grade: B-

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