Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – Review

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a wondrous film, composed of adventure, artistic aesthetic sensibility and wry wit. The film is outwardly quirky and yet has a certain charm to it, much like the other works of director Wes Anderson. It is ambitious and tedious in its presentation, in that it spares no detail in its visual composite, every shot, every article of clothing, prop, gesture, camera movement, everything was meticulously designed and executed. Much like Hitchcock, Anderson uses his camera actively and knows exactly how the film will look and play before shooting even commences, and to this degree he is surely one of the prominent auteurs working today. So what does this mean for the film? Anderson and animation director Mark Gustafson have created an astounding piece of art. The film is completely analog with all animation done manually through stop-motion. It is something to behold on a purely aesthetic level. At first, the film seems completely surreal, the animation almost feels foreign, but that fades rapidly, helped along by the well-known voice work, leaving very real characters. The animation becomes warm and inviting and the style meshes quite well with the subject matter. This film is not like anything else seen in Hollywood in some time. As for the narrative structure of the film, it is put together much like the films of the silent era and classic animation, starting with a book opening to the first page and titles that track to progression of the story. The structure works well, but for a film that is just an hour and a half, there are still a few moments where the film does drag a bit. Thus, the storytelling is not as tight as it need be. Maybe that is due to the changing expectations of audiences, most films now have a high number of action beats versus past periods; but like many other aspects of this film, it feels like a classic and not a new release. The story takes its time. It allows for characters to have moments and is not caught up in action for action’s sake. Rather action plays as the story dictates. Anderson has also created a very referential film here. There are a number of allusions to past works and genres. The use of genre in the film is also remarkable. While having an overall feel of adventure and comedy, the film employs other genres to connect to its audience. For example, there is a scene in which the whole town, guns in hand, is waiting for the animals to emerge from their hole. Through shot selection and music cues this scene very much feels like it is straight out of a western, even though it takes place in England and is between townsfolk and anamorphic animals. The ability to use genres effectively by the filmmakers allows the film to bring the audience into the moment without much exposition. It is not often that a director can mesh multiple genres effectively, but Anderson has done so here. The film at its core is about being yourself, accepting who you are and loving and ultimately empowering yourself, as told through a number of diverse characters. Roald Dahl’s work holds up and comes to life, but the adaptation by Anderson and Noah Baumbach gets more to the heart of the story they wanted to tell, which can be seen in the addition of Ash and Kristofferson. Anderson and Baumbach also employ a fair amount of dry humor, possibly spotlighted in the argument between Mr. Fox and his lawyer, Badger. The humor adds another level of enjoyment that adult viewers will appreciate. The voice acting is perfect for the wit and dryness that Anderson wanted to achieve, highlighted by George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman work. Anderson’s brother Eric Chase Anderson is also very good voicing Kristofferson. Music selection is trademark of Anderson’s style, and here the selections are unexpected but work quite well. Alexandre Desplat, continuing his trend of late, provides a rich score that works well with the visuals of the film to create an overall atmosphere of adventure and playfulness, but the score is also able to capture the dramatic scenes. If the audience can buy into the animation, to the world of Fantastic Mr. Fox, they are in for a treat of a film. 9/10

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