9 March 2010

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox


Fantastic Mr. Fox
2009, 87mins, PG
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer (s): Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Roald Dahl (novel)
Cast includes: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, Wally Wolodarsky, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson
UK Release Date: 23rd October 2009

Adapting the works of Roald Dahl has resulted in a mixed bag of cinematic offerings. “The Witches” and “Matilda” have been turned into terrific children’s films under the guidance of good directors; but 1996’s “James and the Giant Peach” underwhelmed and a lazy animated version of “The BFG” was worthy only of disdain. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is perhaps the least faithfully translated adaptation but that was to be expected under the directorial eyes of Wes Anderson. Anderson has undoubtedly made some important films but his reworking of Dahl’s beloved book is an indulgent and irreverent mess. There are some decent jokes and the voice casting is ace but overall “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a pretty massive disappointment.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) has grown tired of suppressing his predatory instincts; but after a chicken hunt gone wrong several years ago he has sworn to stop plundering the local farms. He now works as a columnist for a newspaper and whilst he whinges and moans about the lack of excitement in life, his family are at least safe and happy. However without his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) and son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) finding out Mr.Fox proceeds to raid three neighbouring farms run by Boggis, Bunce and Bean. He finds success initially but soon the evil farmers grow tired of his thieving ways and decide to hunt him down. As a result Mr. Fox and his family are forced into hiding along with a group of equally bizarre creatures, leaving the supposedly fantastic title character to save them from certain doom.

The voice casting in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is perfect; one only wishes it could have been applied to a better movie. Clooney is the embodiment of cocky brilliance (exactly the tone Mr. Fox demands) and Meryl Streep fits his lovable but uptight spouse. All around them actors like Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray and Wally Wolodarsky slip cutely and efficiently into supporting roles; resulting in the occasional moment of brilliance. The problem is “occasional moments of brilliance” are all “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has at its disposal; the product is far from a consistently entertaining film. There are large portions of screen time were Anderson simply overloads on madcap tomfoolery, leaving structure and narrative satisfaction behind. I love when films break conventional rules of cinema but Anderson has been doing it his whole career and now the act has gone stale. All I wanted was a well handled and respectful version of Dahl’s treasured novel, Anderson however feels the need to adapt liberally and smear his own DNA over the story to a nauseating degree.

The film starts with promise and ends on a high note but everything in the middle fails to impress. The plotting is dull and overworked; the film only lasts for 87 minutes but feels like a bloated two hour extravaganza. Granted Anderson’s off kilter sensibility leads to a few finely tuned and awesome one liners but on the whole the movie doesn’t generate enough laughter. Several scenes (one in the first third featuring Mr. Fox and Badger springs to mind) are strung out and suffocated by Anderson’s incessant need to be quirky and unique. I applaud individualistic and original filmmaking but Anderson takes his own style and applies it at a sloppy and undiluted rate; leading to a film that reeks far too strongly of the director’s unusual tendencies.

The stop motion animation is good fun but the central “family” themes are turgid and thoroughly recycled. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” half-heartedly tackles marital woes and father/son relationships with uninspired results. The audience never really connects with the characters and the endeavour lacks warm; the enterprise has a coldness that keeps it from getting close to the upper echelons of family entertainment. Ending on a silly dance only goes to further highlight the productions desperation to be seen as a light and goofy piece of cinema, something it never achieves for a variety of ill conceived reasons. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” boasts a few instances of popcorn enlightenment but ultimately descends into a broth of dogmatic preaching from a filmmaker who needs to try harder.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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