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Worth A Look: 6.67%
Average: 23.33%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Fantastic Mr. Fox
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"Stop Motion Daddy Issues"
3 stars

Back in 1999, a pair of filmmakers went off their hard-R-rated paths to deliver a pair of G-rated features. The two Davids, Mamet and Lynch, weren't necessarily making children's pictures. Few parents have plunked down their children for a double feature of The Straight Story and The Winslow Boy, but family fables they were about reconciliation and theft. The same year, another pair of filmmakers were at the beginning of their careers and achieving near-unanimous acclaim for their films, Rushmore and Being John Malkovich. Flash-forward ten years to the present. Spike Jonze is wowing astute critics with his adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic, Where the Wild Things Are and Wes Anderson is now dabbling in stop-motion animation adapting Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Both are not your typical children's tales and Jonze has been equally praised and criticized for making a children's film for adults. Anderson is liable to face the same criticism, but dutifully moreso for making a kid's film for him more than anyone else.

Like Wild Things, Mr. Fox has been expanded upon its initially simple story. Dahl's 81-page yarn had significantly more sentences than Sendak's work but could still be broken down into a one-line description of a dastardly fox trying to save his family from the wrath of a trio of farmers. Anderson's Mr. Fox is a sly one indeed. As voiced by George Clooney, he knows the ins-and-outs of marauding chickens from the neighboring farms. When Mr. and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) are caught during one mission and she tells him she's with cub, he makes a vow to go respectable if they get away. (How they get away is never visualized, though one could see their slender frames going right in-between the far-apart bars.)

Some fox years later, Mr. Fox is now a newspaperman, the Mrs. is a happy homemaker and their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is going through his awkward phase. Mr. Fox wants better for his family and looks into buying a tree, one out of his price range according to his lawyer, Badger (Bill Murray). He goes about it anyway but is still unsatisfied, feeling the urge to pull one last three-phase job to loot the farms of Boggis, Bunce and Bean "one fat, one short, one lean." When the farmers catch on to their fox problem they team up to eliminate the poacher for good, camping outside their tree with shotguns and when all else fails, digs into it until there's nothing left. Meanwhile, Mr. Fox and family escape with their lives, meeting up with all the other displaced animals to try to survive the farmers as well as Fox's sworn enemy, The Rat (Willem Dafoe) and finding a home for all to co-exist.

That's the bare bones of Dahl's yarn. Maybe not enough to sustain a 90-minute feature but a reasonable jumping off point best represented in the early scenes while we become accustomed to the animation style and delight in the bridging of the animal characters with the everyday customs of the human world. Breaking with the casual behavior to act out their animal natures provide the film with some of its best throwaway moments. Punctuated by Anderson's classic rock standards, anyone familiar with the director's style of title cards and the recurring themes that has permeated all of his films may be inclined to believe that Fantastic Mr. Fox is parodying those very conventions. Instead, the film slowly bogs itself down in becoming another permutation on family dysfunction.

Aided by Noah Baumbach on script duties, he of such touchy-feely family dramas, The Squid and the Whale and Margot At The Wedding, open up Mr. Fox's world to drop a couple of new characters into the mix. The super of his tree, opossum Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) gives Foxy a willing, if naive, conspirator in his crimes. But its the presence of visiting nephew/cousin, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), that sparks any number of daddy issues and teenage angst that come off more as self-serving commitments to themes exponentially-explored in Anderson's work than fresh lessons for children too young to see The Royal Tenenbaums, which remains his magnum opus. Again, a winking nod to the adults appreciative of his spotty portfolio could have been a fun, if consciously self-aware exercise. Mr. Fox has had its roots in the thieving brothers of Bottle Rocket and the uneasy father figure relationships of Rushmore, Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic. Anderson has never been much to provide an ebb and flow from one scene to the next, a trait that helped suffocate the inexplicably, overpraised Rushmore. Animation, especially one that begs to be unique like Mr. Fox, depends on its storytelling to invite audiences into a world without rules. So once the animals are driven into hiding, the plotting begins to wear thin and we're left underground while Foxy's family either seeks his or their own approval while neglecting ours.

It's hard to criticize Fantastic Mr. Fox for adding one too-many knowing winks when you have Bill Murray voicing a rodent burrowing through the dirt and never make a Caddyshack reference - even when they are being flushed out with hoses of cider. There is a lot of good stuff in Anderson's films. There always is. The animation, while not as aesthetically pleasing as the norms of Pixar and other multi-dimensions, is still wondrous in its old-school audacity, reminding one more of the original King Kong than Wallace & Gromit. We get big laughs out of the putdown of an impromptu musician and the eulogy of another character. Not far into its middle act though the film never finds a footing as either an animated adventure tale or a deeper mediation on family bonding and interspecies relations. Wishing it was Chicken Run and never achieving the depth of Where The Wild Things Are, Anderson and Baumbach create a half-fun, half-humdrum affair that I'm sure they will enjoy watching over and over.

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originally posted: 11/25/09 16:00:00
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User Comments

1/22/16 David H. A whimsical, witty stop-motion masterpiece! 5 stars
10/21/10 millersxing At times feels like pantomime. Overall it's a wonderfully droll film. 4 stars
2/24/10 pin anderson does it again. 5 stars
12/14/09 The GLC You WILL leave happy, unless you are a turd 5 stars
12/14/09 Micah Occasionally funny (especially the titanium card and dying rat) and good voices but too dry 3 stars
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  13-Nov-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 23-Mar-2010


  DVD: 23-Mar-2010

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