I’ve been waiting a long time to review this film. I first saw it just a few days before starting this here Film Dump titled blog so it just missed out on being my first review. I didn’t own a copy of my own as the blu-ray was silly expensive in the UK and DVD just isn’t good enough to do the visual treat that this film is justice. You need them extra resolutions man. Over a year ago I spent a weekend in Sweden. Whilst their I was doing what you always do when on holiday, browse the local DVD store. In this case it was the Swedish version of what HMV wished it was called Media Markt. Whilst browsing the blu-rays I found a copy of Total Recall with an awesome comic book cover and Den Fantastiska Raven (that’s Fantastic Mr Fox in Swedish or something) for 700SEK each. Considering the average cup of coffee in Sweden costs that much I had to snap it up, especially as it was about 3 times cheaper than it was at home. For reasons unknown to me I’ve let this disc, well the box it’s within, collect dust for 16 months. I’m a bad person. This film is fantastic… as the title suggests. I should have reviewed this ages ago. I apologise. Now click that link below for my long overdue review.
Fantastic Mr Fox (George Clooney) is a wild animal. Or at least he used to be until he found out his wife, Mrs Fox (Meryl Streep), was going to have a cub. Mr Fox used to spend his days stealing Chickens, Turkeys and the occasional Squab for a living. It was a good living but a dangerous one. Convinced to become a family man we rejoin Mr Fox 12 Fox years later to find him and his family just about getting by supported by his writing job for the local newspaper, which he’s pretty sure no-one actually reads. He dreams of bigger things, specifically to live above ground where the views are much better. He buys a home in a tree, a very expensive home at that, and soon realises he’ll need to supplement his finances the only way how. By doing one last big job. Well, it’s three smaller component jobs that as a whole form one big job. His plan is to steal from three nearby farms owned by the meanest men in the country, Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon). When the farmers decide they’ve had it with being made a fool of by a Fox they set out to get their revenge. This puts Mr Fox’s family, and the lives of all his friends, in danger and forces him to confront the reality that his inner wild animal could be the end of everyone he knows. Plus, he lied to his wife, and that’s never good.
You may notice that for a children’s film this sounds a hell of a lot like a heist movie mixed with a family drama. Well that’s what happens when Wes Anderson makes a heist movie. He manages to bring the entire films conflict back down to the family level. The core of a Wes Anderson film is a family in dysfunction that must learn to accept each others quirks and come together to become a slightly less dysfunctional family. It’s a theme he’s had running through practically every film he’s made. Even The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was essentially about a family of estranged friends indulging their most eccentric member one last time and the conflict that arises from their pasts being brought back together. For a children’s film Fantastic Mr Fox makes no bones about telling a story that never talks down to children. It presents it’s themes without hiding much of anything, there’s even reference to Mrs Fox being a bit of a free spirit of the free love kind in her younger days. Like Where The Wild Things Are this film makes sure that it gives children a film that they can enjoy at a young age and, eventually, come to love as an adult.
Wes Anderson’s landscape and portrait painting style of framing shots is not compromised one bit here. In fact it’s probably the most apt it’s ever been. For those that may have never noticed, Anderson frames every shot with a flat surface parallel to the camera. Characters always start shots either face or side on at 90 degree angles. His shots are often framed to include lines formed from the sets to create a frame within a frame. A technique Yasujiro Ozu was a master of. I’ll make no bones about saying that I think Wes Anderson has one of the most visually distinct and captivating styles. He’s an actual auteur in an age where the auteur plays second fiddle to the hack. He’s also not become a hack auteur like Tim Burton has these days. What I’m essentially saying is that Fantastic Mr Fox is an incredibly beautiful film to watch. It needs to be seen in high definition so don’t even bother with the DVD release. The intricate details, the subtle movement of individual hairs will all be weakened in standard definition.
Performances are unlike anything in any other animated film. There’s little over acting, although what is could merely be considered slight exaggeration of character quirks. A lot of the dialogue is delivered in the same deadpan yet flowing style Anderson has become known for. When making the film the actors didn’t record their dialogue in lone sound booths. Instead they took a similar approach to Rango by having the actors together and acting out the film, even when doing exterior scenes they’d be out in the countryside acting out each action and line. This means the conversations flow with more fluidity than you’d expect from an animated film. The actors are reacting to each others performances and it comes across in the film itself.
Those performances would have suffered had the animation not been up to scratch, but thankfully the guys at Fox Animation Studio have surpassed everything they have done before. Originally Henry Selick was due to work on the film with Anderson but he had to leave to work on the excellent Coraline. This would have been the second Roald Dahl book he would have adapted for the screen if he had stayed, the first being James and the Giant Peach. The animation has a different feel to what you would have expected of a Selick film as a result of his departure. It stands out now as a work that feels as much like a Wes Anderson film as Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums. Something that may not have been the case with another stylised director working on the project.
Overall I cannot gush about this film enough. It is one of a crop of great children’s animated films made in recent years, sitting alongside films such as Coraline and Rango with ease. In a time where most children’s animation is content to rely on pop songs and slapstick humour it’s nice to see a film so heavily focused on character, thematics and actual structure jokes. The film moves along a fast as a Fox and doesn’t stick around too long. It adds to one of Dahl’s shorter books by expanding on the idea behind who Mr Fox is and what motivates him. I rank this among Anderson’s best films, it’s certainly the most accessible. If you have kids buy this film because remember, any film your child owns you will probably have to watch about 200 times, so it’s best to make sure it’s a truly fantastic film.