Sunday, March 07, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox

SHR and I saw this movie months ago but for some reason I've been reticent to write about it. Sometimes this happens to me when I'm completely in love with a movie. And I was completely in love with this movie from beginning to end.

It was a brilliant move on Anderson's part to adapt a fairly slight Roald Dahl book in order to give himself plenty of room to add to it so he could officially put the Wes Anderson stamp on it.

We had just been burned a few weeks before by the quite disappointing Where the Wild Things Are. I also was fairly disappointed in Wes Anderson's previous film. In my review of The Darjeeling Limited from October 2007, I wrote "Maybe Anderson needs to adapt someone else's work. This is the third straight movie about the same thing. How about a genre piece in the way that the Coen Bros. do it. A Wes Anderson crime flick filtered through Godard's Breathless anyone?" I also wrote, "And that reminds me of another problem with Darjeeling. Too many men. No major female characters. Anderson does a great job directing and writing parts for women. No dice in Darjeeling though."

It is astounding to me that Anderson had to make an animated film to create his most real characters in years. This movie corrected both of my criticisms of Darjeeling. While I couldn't have guessed in 2007 that his genre piece would be an animated film, he did exactly what I was hoping for when I wrote my previous review. Also, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) is the best female character Anderson has written since The Royal Tenenbaums.

In the comments section of the previous review, Mitch wrote, "My main problem with the last two Anderson movies is that most of the characters are really unsympathetic if not just plain unlikeable. I enjoyed the sequence with the car in New York more than most of what happened in India, and wished it had come earlier in the movie so I could actually care about the brothers instead of just feeling like they were a collection of meticulously-designed hairstyles and wardrobes disguised as characters.

The pins and badges in "Rushmore," art on the walls of the Tenenbaum house and even the jumpsuits in "Bottle Rocket" were quirks that seemed to enhance their stories and make them feel more complete, but lately things like Steve Zissou's specialty Adidas sneakers and the designer luggage in "Darjeeling" have felt more showy and distracting than anything else."

Exactly! And again, it took an animated film to knock Anderson out of his comfortable world of preciousness. It took him making a movie based on a kid's book to be less annoyingly twee. Sure the sets and design in this film were meticulously crafted and brilliant but they complemented the movie rather than being the main part of the movie.

I remember talking to Eric Bachmann years ago about the difference between the songwriting of his band, The Archers of Loaf, and Polvo. He said that Polvo wrote the music first and then as an afterthought added the lyrics. He said that he tried to think of how the two would work together as he wrote songs. This analogy doesn't fully work of course because I love both the Archers and Polvo but I do feel like Anderson's last two films were all about the set design first and then the characters and dialogue were added later as an afterthought. While adding the words later can work for a band like Polvo, I don't know if it works quite as well for a screenwriter. Fantastic Mr. Fox was created with the design and the dialogue together. Or at least it felt like it was.

I loved the intricately designed sets and characters. I loved how the fur on the foxes moved. I loved how the whole endeavor felt very late 60's Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I was critical of the cliche of slo mo scenes set to the Kinks from Darjeeling but every song in this was perfect. In particular, the I Get Around segment during the chase scene was AWE-SOME.

I loved Whackbat and wish that I could play it. Is there any better line in a movie this year than "Basically, there's three grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and a player at Whackbat. Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket and the whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the umpire calls hotbox. Finally, you count up however many score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine."

I loved the Clooney. I loved the rivalry between Ash and Kristofferson. I loved Willem Dafoe as the Rat, Bill Murray as the Badger, Owen Wilson as the the Coach and Jarvis Cocker's song. I loved the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Fox. I loved the Wes Anderson theme of strife between father and son and also how it didn't completely overtake the whole movie.

I loved the adventure. I loved the scenes of digging underground in order to show off the Wes Andersony set pieces. I loved Boggis, Bean, and Bunce. I loved the liberal use of the word cuss and Murray's liberal use of it. Hysterical.

I loved the way Anderson recorded the voices in the "field" rather than in the studio. I'm not sure I would have been able to put my finger on why I loved the way everything sounded if I hadn't known that fact going on. I think I would have just intuitively known it sounded great and more "real" than other animated films. A brilliant idea.

All in all, I can't believe how great this movie was and how full of joy and charm it was. I can't wait to see what Wes Anderson does next.

I also can't wait to get this on DVD and watch it over and over with Double Trouble once they are a little bit older.

Play whackbat online.

UPDATE:
1/3/11
SHR and I watched this with the boys a few weeks ago. They had no idea what was going on since it's not really a kid's movie, let alone a movie for toddlers. But they sat on the couch and didn't take their eyes off of it during the three sittings it took for us to finish it. Consider this their first real movie.

Directed by Wes Anderson
2009
Court St.

4 comments:

Crispin H. Glover said...

i saw this in the theatre filled with parents and kids and the feeling during the film and afterwards was pleasant and enjoyable. oftentimes after terrible kids movies, there's a feeling of disappointment and regret lingering in the air like stale beer but not this time. it was light and there were smiles all around. when kids see movies like this that are complicated and clever and fantastic do they notice a difference between what they just saw and the more offputting and garish kids entertainment? young kids are so easily entertained by movies and my kids can't seem to see a difference between Up and G-Force but i hope that it touches something deep down which eventually bubbles up and makes them more critical and demanding of the movies they watch.

Crispin H. Glover said...

plus, i wanted to add that wes anderson once again nailed it with his use of a closing song. when let her dance kicks in, i wanted to explode with joy.

Fred Swayze said...

Pure joy. Plain and simple. The combo of my favorite filmmaker and favorite children's author paid off in ways I can't even explain.

And I can think of nothing better to do than watch this film with Double Trouble.

And maybe play Whackbat on our next Catskills trip.

decaf said...

3 things:

(1) i loved loved loved it, too!

(2) OH! i didn't realize the sound was recorded out and about. lovely.

(3) OH MY CRAP! YOU TALKED TO ERIC BACHMANN?!?!? how did i not know this? ugh and swoon.