Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Director Report Card: Wes Anderson (2009)

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox
In the months of production before any actual stills surfaced, I wonder how Wes Anderson was going to adapt his signature style to an animated children's film. Would “Fantastic Mr. Fox” represent a shift in style for the filmmaker? How would his trademark eccentricities stand up in G-rated form? Then a trailer premiered and it became apparent that Wes Anderson had made a children’s film without changing his style at all.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a comedy about real-estate, partially anyway. It’s also a comedy about neurotic insecurities and accepting innate, unchanging attributes about one’s self. An important subplot revolves around a son’s jealousy over his talented nephew, that plays off in a far more petty fashion then a similar plot usually does in a kid’s movie. This movie is pretty much a typical Wes Anderson movie with furry animals instead, right down to the retro-soundtrack. He doesn’t even ditch the swearing, instead simply using the word “cuss” in place of all actual profanity. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me Anderson would remain steadfast in his style.

I’m not sure what kind of kid this movie would appeal too. The comedy is mostly dependent on fast-paced, quirky dialogue and character interaction. The moments of big broad slapstick feel just as out of place as you’d expect. The plot features several convoluted schemes and most of the central irony will probably go over a typical kid’s head. (Though if your kid does get it, they’re probably pretty smart.) Taking the film on its own merits, I will say it ranks above “The Darjeeling Limited” but still comes in well below the rest of the director’s films.

The cast is uniformly excellent. George Clooney is pitch perfect in the title role, as is Meryl Streep as his wife. Jason Schwertzman plays a less confident version of Max from “Rushmore” as the son, Ash, in what is by far the film’s funniest moments. Wally Wolodarsky, seemingly Anderson’s real life sidekick, has a hilarious role as timid, easily fazed sidekick Possum. Anderson’s real brother Eric has another funny, understated role as the source of Ash’s petty scorn. Schwertzman and him play off each other nicely. Bill Murray shows up, of course, as Badger, in what is probably his liveliest role in years. William DaFoe shows up in a bizarre villainous turn as Rat.

The movie is beautiful to look at, bathed in warm autumn colors. The stop motion animation affords a unique feel, especially when swirling cotton is used in place of smoke, water, or fire. The movie, in many ways, feels like one of Eric Anderson’s illustrations brought to life in corduroy and tweed. The animation also allows for several clever camera angles, the beagle POV shots being my favorite. Beyond the sixties pop songs that naturally pepper the movie, the original score is quite good, especially the use of the “Boggis, Bunce, and Bean” limerick. The movie’s plot really flows nicely, and each inconvenience the story throws at the character is funnier then the last.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is standard Wes Anderson, which means, despite being typical, it’s charming, funny, breezy, and infectiously fun. Pretty good for a movie directed almost completely via e-mail. [Grade: B]

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