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 Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Fantastic Mr. Fox   Fri Oct 23, 2009 6:49 pm

Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox was published in 1970, his 5th children's story, and it came after he'd done the screenplays for You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. To this day, it is still one of his best loved stories, a tale of a wily fox, who outwits 3 nasty farmers who want to kill him for stealing their supplies. One young fan of the book was Wes Anderson, who as a young boy growing up in Houston, Texas was enthralled by the book and it's vivid depictions of the characters. 20 years later, he had become a successful filmmaker with films such as Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), very quirky dramedys, which paint bittersweet pictures of flawed characters, punctuated with dry humour. When The Royal Tenenbaums proved to be a surprise sleeper success, Anderson decided he wanted to do an animated film, a stop-motion animation, and he knew just the story to translate to the big screen. It would take 7 years of planning and 2 years of filming to bring Dahl's classic story to the big screen. The film version of Fantastic Mr. Fox has been changed quite a bit, but it's faithful to it's plot, and Anderson has found alot of room for personal invention.

The film has Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity Fox (Meryl Streep), who have just bought a tree overlooking 3 farms on the other side of a valley, owned by chicken farmer Boggis, farmer Bunce whose speciality are goose liver doughnuts and farmer Bean (Michael Gambon), who has a huge cellar of cider. Mr. Fox has an inflated opinion of himself, and even though he has given up the life of stealing. But, he and his possum friend Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) go off on one more heist, they go to raid the farms of Boggis, Bunch and Bean. It goes well, but then the farmers ambush Fox, and shoot his tail off, and try to dig him out. But, Mr. Fox won't be caught, and he and his family, who also include moody son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and their nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson). And they soon find themselves with other animals, including lawyer Badger (Bill Murray), to raid the farmers entire stock as they try to catch Mr. Fox.

Now, one of the main criticisms of Wes Anderson's adaptation of Dahl's whimsical tale is the fact all the animals have American accents. Bearing in mind they're all living in a quite stereotypical English countryside setting. But, it doesn't hurt the story that much, and you come to accept it. The look of the film is inspired by 1960's Czech animation made under Soviet rule, at times here, it does look a little creepy, but it's also a unique way of doing it. There have been a rise in stop-motion films being made over the past decade or so, from Nightmare Before Christmas to Corpse Bride and even what Aardman makes. Indeed, the ragged crudeness of Fantastic Mr. Fox make it look like an arthouse version of Chicken Run. It uses techniques they don't use anymore, and it's good that Wes Anderson has been brave enough to try something like this these days when no-one else is doing it, at times, the animation resembles what Cosgrove Hall used to do with The Wind in the Willows.

It's a huge ensemble piece and Anderson is used to working with big casts, and here alot of his usual repertory company are on show for his first animated film, with a few newcomers with Clooney and Streep. Clooney's Mr. Fox, is a cool hipster, who never gives in, and is always determined to stay one step ahead of the farmers who are baying for his blood. Streep's Mrs. Fox, (named Felicity, after Dahl's widow) adds heart and understanding. Nearly everyone else has worked with Anderson at least once over, Anderson's friend Owen Wilson has a quick cameo as Coach Skip, who works at Ash's school and teaches everyone a highly complex baseball/cricket hybrid. Willem Dafoe has a sinister cameo as Rat, who guards Bean's cider. There's also a friendly musical cameo from Jarvis Cocker, who wrote an amusing little song with Petey's Song. Razz

Although it's based on Dahl's work, it's fitted to Anderson's sensibilities, and indeed, it references his past films, the robberies could have come from his debit Bottle Rocket, the family troubles within slightly echo the Royal Tenenbaums, (even the opening credits with the book mirror that film), and the cross-sections of locations are reminiscent of the boat on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It's Anderson's first family film, as his past 5 films have all had mature themes to their names, but on the strength of this, it's amazing he's never tried anything like this before, the script by him and Noah Baumbach, (who has also wrote The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding) is very entertaining and not far removed from what they've done before. They even based Mr. Fox on Dahl himself, even the chair Mr. Fox sits in is identical to the chair Dahl used to write his books in at his home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Oh, and it borrows the blueberries/sleeping powder plan from Danny, the Champion of the World.



It's a very enjoyable film, and once you get past the American accents, (which it's very easy to do), you soon settle into a fun, light and breezy caper film. It sticks very closely to the plot of the book, though it does add a new third act, which includes a rescue mission. Maybe Dahl would have approved of it. It's hard to say what Dahl would have made of Anderson's take on his book, but the film is different to what has been done before, and it makes a change from alot of CGI animated films. The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is old fashioned mixing old English charm with a slightly Western theme. Plus, there's a good mix of songs by The Beach Boys, Burl Ives and The Rolling Stones added in there!! Very Happy It's got alot of colourful characters and I'd love to see Anderson try another stop-motion animation film, as he showed great potential and made great use of an old-fashioned technique.
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