29 November 2009

Pretty Fantastic, Wes

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a joy to watch, and might just be one of Wes Anderson's best films to date.  But in spite of what you might have been sold, just like Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, Fantastic Mr. Fox is not a film for children.  It's part of the now Hollywood approved nostalgia factory for me and my peers. 

The story begins with a heist.  Mr. and Mrs. Fox jump, flip, and twirl to steal some game, delighting each other and the audience at the same time, with the contagious Beach Boys song "Heroes and Villains" as the backdrop.  It's pretty simple - they are foxes, and this (stealing, sneaking, etc.) is what they do.  In a moment of curiosity and bravado, Mr. Fox inadvertently causes their own capture.  Inside the cage that has caught them, Mrs. Fox reveals that she is pregnant and, should they survive this, she needs Mr. Fox to take on a new line of work.  Responsibility can be such a kill joy.

The movie skips forward some years and re-enters the Foxs' lives in a moment of comfort and routines. Mr. Fox is now a newspaper man who expresses concern that no one actually reads his columns, Mrs. Fox contentedly makes home, and their teenage son Ash pouts around awkwardly, to the resigned bemusement of his father.  Normal, boring family stuff, really, but oddly compelling.

Things are apparently too boring, though.  Mr. Fox gets a midlife crisis itch, decides to buy an elaborate tree home and begins scheming another heist, with his targets being the three farms that his new home looks towards.  Things go well, and then they go wrong, and in the midst of all of this, Mr. Fox waxes poetic on his true purpose in life (Why a fox?).  Mr. Fox's selfishness ends up putting the entire community in danger and all are forced to fight for survival against the three farmers obsessed with destroying Mr. Fox and his friends.

The homemade, stop motion animation is quite possibly the only way Mr. Anderson could have made an "animated" film.  It reeks of 70s and 80s nostalgia, and a gritty realness that most directors gleefully abandoned with the advent of CGI and other more advanced was to animate films.  We know that this movie must have taken extraordinary efforts.  Consider any of the joyous dancing scenes and just how laborious it would be to move 40 limbs per take.  I imagine that Mr. Anderson and his band take great pleasure in knowing that we know that this movie was freaking hard to make.  Like a handwritten note or a bespoke suit, we can see and appreciate the craftsmanship in every take (unlike, say, a Pixar film which just sort of smoothly floats over the audience, never expecting them to consider the labor).  This could be a flaw.  Ballerinas are told to make their movements look effortless, and I'd imagine that Directors receive the same sort of guidance.  Regardless, as the movie progresses thanks to a compelling story and amusing dialogue, you begin to let the clunkiness wash over you as well, just as we did with those Christmas movies from the 70s and 80s.

In many ways, I don't think this film would have worked on it's own - audiences need to have an understanding of Mr. Anderson's strange dialogue, long pauses, and odd character dynamics in order to truly enjoy Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Oddly though, Mr. Anderson's style is more compelling to watch played out by characters restricted to stop motion animation - you're willing to buy it more since the animation is already so jilted and awkward, it makes sense that the dialogue would be as well.   And because his style is more digestible in Fantastic Mr. Fox, I found myself actually caring about the Mr. Fox, the community, the family.  In some of his more recent films I found myself merely basking in my own appreciation of the characters and their quirks, but not really giving a damn about them.  (Who and what were we supposed to root for in The Darjeerling Limited?)

Mr. Anderson and Mr. Fox

Mr. Anderson and Noah Baumbach have adapted the story to be a bit more existential than Mr. Dahl might have intended, but have emerged with a truly great tale about family, community, and agency.  And no, they didn't go the Dave Eggers route and decide it was also about depression.  Thank goodness.

1 comment:

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