Welcome to Animation For Adults, proving that cartoons ain’t just kids’ stuff. Today we take a look at what looks like a kids’ movie despite having some very adult sensibilities. This is Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Fantastic Mr. Fox was created in 2009 by 20th Century Fox, is based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl, directed by Wes Anderson, and features the voice talent of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.
Mr. and Mrs. Fox have been living happy and peaceful lives as parents after hanging up their old jobs as professional chicken thieves. But old habits die hard when Mr. Fox discovers three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean (one short, one fat, one lean), who each have unique crops and livestock that are just begging to be raided. He then devises a plan for the chicken heist of the century, recruiting the aid of his overachiever nephew Kristofferson (much to the chagrin of his son Ash) and the space cadet possum Kiley, while trying his hardest to keep it hidden from his wife. As a result, the three farmers team up to capture the beasts that have been ransacking their farms, and declare all-out war on the devious little fox, getting all the animals involved as well whether they like it or not. But when cuss hits the fan, he enlists the help of more of his friends to get him to help them get out of the mess that Mr. Fox got them all into in the first place.
You know who I love? Wes Anderson. I think he’s one of the most innovative filmmakers of the past fifteen years. I’ve seen and loved almost all of his films (I have yet to see The Royal Tenenbaums or Bottle Rocket), I love his dry and blunt sense of humor and sharp dialogue, and I can relate to a lot of the themes in his movies. You know who else I love? Roald Dahl. Anyone who ever had a childhood since the 60s has read at least one of his books, and he’s introduced a darkness to children’s literature that hasn’t been seen since the Brothers Grimm. Without him, there would be no J.K. Rowling, Louis Sachar or Lemony Snickett. However, like a lot of authors, he was never happy with the film adaptations of his work, openly detesting each one he ever saw up to, including, and especially the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I’m pretty sure he’d have the same he’d have the same reaction if he ever saw this, but for good reason. This isn’t “Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox”. This is “Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox as told by Wes Anderson”.
Now I never read Fantastic Mr. Fox myself, but I know there were a lot of things that Anderson added, specifically most of the second half of the film. If you’ve ever seen one of Anderson’s movies, then you should be familiar with some of the tropes that he uses in a lot of movies: dry but witty humor and dialogue, deadpan characters, themes about broken/unorthodox family circles, a cast that has Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman in there somewhere (Schwartzman is a lead, Murray is a supporting character, and Wilson only has a cameo), they’re all here. There are even a couple recognizable shots recreated from his previous films like The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic if you look in the right places. A lot of the plot points including the rivalry between Ash and Kristofferson and the entire third act, however, are all Anderson’s creation. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Despite this being his first full length animated feature, Anderson directs this an awful lot like how he does his live action films. He incorporates the help of stop-motion aficionado Henry Selick, who worked with Anderson before on The Life Aquatic, and was also working on Coraline that same year. (Trust me, you’ll hear all about that one eventually.) The puppets that were created for this are meticulously detailed and remind one what furry little creatures would actually look like if they wore clothes and walked on two legs. Well, Mr. Fox’s limbs are a lot longer than what fox’s limbs really are, but I’m guessing that’s more of a send-off to Jack Skellington than anything.
Much like the way that he directs his actors, the puppets here have heavy emphasis on body language, but each one is given some impressive facial expressions, which is a big plus for me since one of the things that irked me about Wes Anderson films is how straight laced and deadpan their characters can be. Same goes for the voice work. I think of George Clooney the same way that I think of actors like Robin Williams or Jack Black, in that it’s hard for me to lose myself in his character as a character because his personality always bleeds too much over it. Even when it’s just his voice, I know it’s him. But it does work to the film’s advantage, since Mr. Fox is very archetypal of the characters that Clooney is accustomed to playing: arrogant, sly, persuasive and a natural born leader. This especially comes to play when the movie goes all Ocean’s Eleven on us by the third act. Along with terrific performances from Meryl Streep as his no-nonsense wife, Jason Schwartzman as their angsty son, and Michael Gambon as a particularly nasty farmer, it’s a nice change in pace from seeing Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Angelica Huston get top-billed for the millionth time in a row. (Well, the first two are obviously present, but they’re in side roles this time around.)
Like Clooney the Fox, both the humor and dialogue are sharp, quirky, witty, and snappy. Every line is kept in the spirit of Roald Dahl’s writing style, lending itself to some really interesting and funny bantering. This factor is why I insist that this is not a kid’s movie. Sure, a child can sit down and enjoy it as much as their parents, but like all of Dahl’s stories and, to a certain extent, recent Pixar films, there’s an underlying ominous tone that will just fly over their head. But parents can spot it at first sight, and will have a good laugh at some references and use of words that you’d never expect from a kid’s movie. After all, what kid’s movies can you name that have conversations about existentialism? I also love how they replace every swear word with “cuss”, as it allows for them to get away with lines like “Why the cuss didn’t I listen to my lawyer?” or “This is a complete and total clustercuss.”
In all honesty, I don’t think my review really does this movie justice. It’s one of those things that has to be seen to be believed, and I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s literally unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, and works in more ways than I even thought imaginable. The characters are likable, the animation and cinematography is astounding, the humor is great, and the dialogue is some of the best I’ve heard in any movie, not just animated. Sure, it’s a little (waves hands in front of face) different, but there’s something really fantastic about that.
I give Fantastic Mr. Fox 10/10.