Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox - The Bestial Tenenbaums


Review by Eoin O’Faolain

In cinema you tend to see two types of directors: those who make different movies across different genres, and those who make the same movie over and over. The latter are often labelled auteurs, obsessed with a particular theme or style that they need to create using different scenarios, as if chipping away at some metaphysical truth. But such people can also lose their audience along the way, boring them with the same themes, the same style.

Wes Anderson, writer/director of offbeat comedies such as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, is certainly in the latter of these characters, with his tales of family dysfunction and his trademark style that can only be described as a quirky mix between JD Salinger and high-school theatre. But his last film, The Darjeeling Ltd., performed poorly at the box office and was criticized for its insubstantiality and repetitiveness. So it comes as a relief to see his latest film is an adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel Fantastic Mr Fox. And it’s a stop-motion animation. But while a Dahl story (which are usually amusingly grotesque) may seem like a perfect way for Anderson to branch out in his use of themes, it’s ironic to realize that The Fantastic Mr. Fox is possibly Anderson’s most quintessential film.

The tale deals with the eponymous hero, who decides to give up his farm-raiding ways in order to provide a safer life for his wife and son Ash (who is deeply jealous of his cousin Kristofferson for attraction his father’s attention). But Mr. Fox decides to return to his wily ways, moving home to reside near the farms of the three most dangerous humans in the area: Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Enlisting some animal companions to enact his master-plan, complications arise, putting Fox’s family and friends at serious risk.

Once again Anderson returns to his key figure of the reluctant father. Mr Fox is merely a candid version of Royal Tenenbaum or Steve Zissou, too interested in his own entertainment to live up to his responsibilities. His family are just as dysfunctional as the Tenenbaums, with Mrs. Fox doubting her decision to marry her husband, son Ash unable to live up to his father’s reputation, etc. And of course despite being an animation the film still has the same feel of an Anderson movie, brimming with primary colors, chapter headings, and the use of understated wit that can make his films either hilarious or dull.

But the change of format may be just enough to refresh Anderson’s canon. The humor is slightly broader, and there are a few laugh-out loud moments, some for the kids (the physical comedy), others for adults (such as the impromptu ballad of Mr. Fox, complete with yodeling, cut short by Bean who exclaims “That’s just poor songwriting!”). The cast are exceptional, with smooth George Clooney playing Fox (although admittedly we don’t really feel the regret in his voice later in the film, when we should), Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, and so on. Even Jason Schwartzmann, whose deadpan performances rarely work, manages to pull off Fox’s son Ash perfectly.

However, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a misfire in some ways. As a children’s film it probably doesn’t work. The retro animation will appeal more to adults (the kind who watched stop-motion animation all the time in kids TV) than children. And the humor is particularly deadpan at times. But for adults the film is slightly frothy, dealing with interesting issues but in a rather light manner. At best, the film is the ideal option for adults who want to bring their kids to a movie, but secretly want to watch something they can enjoy. For it is without doubt not a kids’ flick, not a Roald Dahl adaptation, but a Wes Anderson movie through and through.

4 / 5 stars

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