Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

(Premiere Date: October 14, 2009 [
London Film Festival])
(USA Theatrical Release Date: November 13, 2009)


After all, we're all just WILD ANIMALS!

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

When 1933's King Kong was released, a better critic than I commented that the film was so realistic in its portrayal that the audience could even see the affects of the wind as it blew through Kong's fur. In hindsight (and after more documentaries than there were hairs on Kong's back) this is rather funny as the affect this reviewer noted was caused by the Stop Motion Animators putting their hands all over Kong to pose the puppet for the next 1/24th of a second snapshot. Still, the idea that it might be wind is a rather groovy idea.

This brings us 3/4 of a century forward to the 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox! This entirely Stop-Motion Animated feature (without the visual presence of any of those pesky "human actors") shows a lot of the same odd fur conditions that King Kong did. This is mostly because the film focuses mostly on a bunch of woodland critters moving super-fast through life, requiring more posing before 9 AM than most supermodels experience all day long!

If Roald Dahl, Stop Motion and flying fur isn't weird enough for you... how about the fact that the characters are messing around and carrying on like they're in a Wes Anderson flick. Yeah, probably because Fantastic Mr. Fox was, in fact, directed by Wes Anderson (with a copious amount of help from animation director Mark Gustafson). Make no mistake, while this film certainly has Roald Dahl written all over it like psychedelic graffiti, this is through-and-through a Wes Anderson Film with all the trappings and trademarks thereof. That can be a good thing if the quirky oddities that Wes Anderson brings to the screen float your proverbial Bellefonte! Naturally, if you're just not going to get it, then you're just not going to get it!

For those in tune with Anderson, animated or not, Mr. Fox can be a sly treat. As the title might suggest (unless you're completely off your spot), the film centers around one Mr. Fox (with the more-than-animated voice of George Clooney), a scoundrel and thief with a sharp tongue and a dry wit. He's also got a sweet wife named Felicity (Meryl Streep) who shakes Fox's very existence when she tells him she's pregnant. This pretty much forces him into the honest and domestic life whether he likes it or not.

Two (human) years later, Fox is a columnist for the local fish wrapper with a lovely wife and an awkward son named Ash (Jason Schwartzman). He's also having a bit of a crisis, which he can only hope is mid-life. His first angst-fueled big leap is to buy a home in a tree with the help of his lawyer Badger (Bill Murray). In that the new home has a perfect view of three farms, run by three nasty men, Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Robin Hurlstone, Hugo Guinness and Michael Gambon, respectively). Now, can an experienced theif like Mr. Fox possibly pass up the chance to test his mettle against all three farmers and their defenses, regardless of what his wife and friends think? Probably not.

Of course, he can't do it alone. No, he's got to get a gang together, starting with Kylie the opossum superintendent of Fox's place (played by Wally Wolodarsky). In that Kylie is often catatonic, it might help to have a ringer in the group. Luckily Felicity's nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). And this kid is good... at everything. In fact, he seems to be just about everything that his cousin Ash is not... much to Ash's mounting chagrin. This is, in part, why it's Kristofferson that accompanies Fox on his raids in stead of Ash... especially since the farms are guarded by Rabid Beagles and even one big, mean Rat (voiced by Willem Dafoe). That's not even mentioning the mean old farmers themselves (especially Bean).

It isn't long before the revenge of the Farmers puts not only the Fox family but just about every animal from Coach Skip (Owen Wilson) to Linda Otter (Karen Duffy) at risk. Naturally it's going to take a lot to get out of this mess... and it might take a bunch of Wild Animals to do it, too!

The good news is that the film manages to remain interesting, exciting and hilarious throughout its 87 minute runtime. This is especially true due to the fact that writers Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach do a great job of both bringing Dahl's characters to life and infusing them (and their own additional creations) with witty dialogue and hilariously human mannerisms. The rivalry between Ash and Kristofferson is a true classic as is the interaction between Badger and Fox. It's Fox himself that manages to steal back his own show over and over, thanks to the rapid-fire comical delivery of George Clooney. The already snappy dialogue is amplified by Clooney's clownish acting and it works over and over again, right up to the warm and funny last scene.

Along the way, however, there are a few moments of complete stiffness, both in the characters themselves (so well designed by Victor Georgiev) and in the story itself. There are also more moments of lapsed logic here than even in the most outlandish Anderson comedy. No, I'm not talking about the concept of talking American animals goofing around the English Countryside... that's a bit too obviously fun. However, repeated deus ex machina moments revolving around digging tend to get a bit tired after the fifth or sixth time the characters realize, oh yeah, they can still dig! It's easy to imagine children being attracted to this movie due to its look and characterizations. To be sure, this film is a purely "Rated PG" affair with only suggestions of alcohol and action being its most "edgy" moments. However, children would more than likely find themselves bored and confused by the more adult plotline. And, as I said, this one is every bit as "not-for-everyone" as any Wes Anderson flick.

That said, it's a hell of a lot of fun and is more than worth the time to watch if you can appreciate both subtle humor and over-the-top surreal comedy. Yeah, this is Roald Dahl all right and it's also every bit as "Wes Anderson" as "Wes Anderson" gets!

The film certainly misfires in a few areas, but manages to come out of the chicken coop with its fair share of dinner hens... along with Three and One Half Stars out of Five! Whether you're Lutra Lutra, Talpa Europea, Oryctolagus Cuniculus, Castor Fiber, Meles Meles or even Didelphis Virginiana, dig your way to the theatre for Fantastic Mr. Fox! That is, unless you think The Royal Tenenbaums is the current ruling monarchy of Micronesia! Like I said, if you're not going to get it, you're not going to get it, folks. See you in the next reel. Get me, Mr. Kong?

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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
who is solely responsible for his own views
And for the fact that, let's face it, he really is quite the wild animal
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This page is adapted from the review for Up, the first review I quoted to you, way back this summer... before you started calling me your "smart, sexy, famous guy!" I know that things are tough... but believe me they're as tough or more so for me. I love you.

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