At The Picture Show
Clever like a 'Fox'
Wes Anderson makes stop-motion animation entirely his own in the beautiful and eccentric
'Fantastic Mr. Fox'
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, based on the book by Roald Dahl
Starring: The voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Eric
Anderson, Michael Gambon, Wallace Wolodarsky, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson
Rated PG / 1 hour, 27 minutes
Opened November 25, 2009
(out of four)
How many filmmakers in the world could move from live-action to stop-motion animation as
gracefully as Wes Anderson has, all while protectively retaining their own artistic sensibilities?
To be honest, I hope there would be plenty of others, but how many would even dare to try?
Anderson, the indie auteur darling of The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore fame, has now made
stop-motion his own, and in doing so has crafted one of the best films of his career. And
actually, it makes perfect sense that he would be attracted to animation. He has often cited the
late Bill Melendez - director of dozens of Charlie Brown films, including, of course, A Charlie
Brown Christmas - as one of his biggest influences. You might remember hearing
"Christmastime is Here" played during Tenenbaums.
The same artistry that Melendez brought to Peanuts, Anderson
has brought to Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the book by Roald Dahl. The film is at once a
dazzlingly new experience for Anderson vets, and as comfortably familiar as anything in his
oeuvre. The exquisite tableaus that have defined his visual style remain - and feature the kind of
brilliant details that should catch the eye of Oscar voters, if only they paid attention to animated
fare in the art direction category. (In fact, I think this movie might have my favorite production
design of the year.)
Anderson's patented style of panning camerawork is put to great use as always. Even his
deadpan sense of humor and his terminal affinity for father/son issues and complex family
dynamics. This is, to put it simply, a Wes Anderson film in every sense. Yet the animation style
and Dahl's storyline seem to have freed him up creatively. This is the most thrillingly alive
movie he has made in years.
From the first shot, you may instinctively know you're watching something special. Anderson
sets up a bizarre but somehow perfect Western motif, opening up with our hero, Mr. Fox
(George Clooney), in the center of the frame, casually leaning against a tree on top of a hill, the
burnt yellow sky slowly rolling along as "Davy Crockett" plays quietly on Mr. Fox's walkman.
He and the little lady (Meryl Streep) are scavenging food - as, being the wild, non-domesticated
animals that they are, they tend to do.
Not anymore, though. Mrs. Fox is pregnant. She informs her
husband of this after the two have gotten trapped in a cage on the property of what is sure to be
one angry farmer. And so the life of the wild is put to rest. Mr. Fox gets a respectable job at the
local paper, runs a respectable family, even tries to buy a more-than-respectable house - one
that, in truth, is a little out of his price range.
But naturally, that comfortable life of his isn't enough to quench that wild desire inside. After
all, those three nasty farmers nearby - Boggis, Bunce and Bean - are just begging to have their
stockpiles of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, apples and hard apple cider swiped. And so it
Insisting that he's just gotten lucky at the local market - he's clever as a fox, that Mr. Fox - Mr.
Fox starts bringing home food and drink worthy of a grand feast. But it's not long before the
farmers catch on to his antics and, led by the odious Bean (Michael Gambon), try to snuff him
Soon Mr. Fox, his family, his friends and every animal in the valley get uprooted from their
homes and forced underground, with the farmers' stakeout crew waiting to blast off their heads if
they come up for air. The animals dig themselves as deep as they can, but they can't survive
there forever. That, of course, is what Boggis, Bunce and Bean are counting on.
The schemes that Mr. Fox comes up with - before and during
their standoff with the farmers - are ingenious both in their zany complexity and in the way
Anderson handles them. I don't know that he's ever shown quite this level of visual dexterity.
His creativity with cinematic language in this film is stunning. Consider the way the fight scene
with Rat (Willem Dafoe) plays out. Or the way we see the turkey-and-goose heist on a wall of
surveillance monitors. Or the virtuoso display of montage during Mr. Fox's deliciously
mischievous underground scheme at the height of the standoff.
This is a film constantly surprising us with its wit, its charm, its absurdity, its playfulness, its
beauty. Moments of completely unexpected and perfectly timed humor will erupt out of
And while we all know how much Anderson takes pleasure utilizing pop music, how about this:
a true-blue musical number during which one above-ground character serenades the others with
a song describing the very events we're watching take place under ground. Or the follow-up to
that song - and maybe my favorite moment of the entire film - when the perpetually ornery Bean
responds to the song in the grumpiest and most hilarious of ways. ("You wrote a bad song!")
In a film full of strong voice work, Gambon might stand out the most. He makes for a marvelous
villain, milking that thick, gruff accent of his for all the mileage he can get.
Clooney - who these days seems to be able to melt into just
about any role and knock it out of the park, no matter if it's as a leading man, a supporting player
or just a voice - reminds us of his character from O Brother, Where Art Thou. He has that same
foolhardy self-confidence, the same tendency for well-philosophized mischief that goes horribly
I could go on and on about all the lines, details, moments and visual touches that make Fantastic
Mr. Fox so memorable. Then again, there are so many of them, I'd have to see the film again
just to do it justice. Happy to oblige.
Read more by Chris Bellamy