Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson has done it again. When I initially saw the trailer for the film something about it screamed failure. The archaic stop-motion animation, the lack of a strong plot and a cast of characters that look to be one dimensional all seemed like the potential for some wire thin filmmaking with covered up with a few charming elements. But once again Wes Anderson has flirted with near disaster and sidestepped simplicity by a narrow margin. And to make my own review a bit of a challenge I’m going to refrain from using the q-word that gets slapped on every Wes Anderson picture.

There is indeed a narrative here as Mr. Fox (George Clooney) has given up his life as a thief to live with Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and his son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman). But Mr. Fox feels that call once more to return to his previous life of daring thievery. He risks the well-being of the entire animal community when he incurs the wrath of the three local businessmen, not to mention his already bickering family.

It doesn’t help that their family is already a bit shook up by the arrival of Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), a cousin who takes after Mr. Fox more than Ash does. It’s his arrival that allows Wes Anderson to flesh out these characters. Ash is the runty character, constantly getting picked on and an athletic wimp. When Kristofferson comes along and wows his father, woos his lab partner and gets picked as Mr. Fox’s stealing buddy Ash decides to step it up to some hilarious results.

Yet this isn’t your average animation flick for the kids with laugh a minute pacing. It’s odd because Wes Anderson has made two of the funniest films I’ve seen: Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums. Here he seems to be working against the convention that animated features will go for the cheapest and greatest number of laughs. It still has a number of genuinely funny moments but don’t take any young children if they are the kind of kid who only enjoys the funny animated pictures. If anything I think Wes Anderson seems to be overcompensating by making a number of moments unfunny.

Now this isn’t a bad thing as it allows for Wes Anderson to craft a serious drama between the members of the Fox family. There are a number of dramatically powerful scenes between these characters, including a confession that ranks among one of the best scenes of the year. The film has an unexpected level of maturity and thematic depth for what initially appears to be a variation of Chicken Run.

But what stops this film from being a truly great film are a number of odd, out of place scenes that either drag on or just are awkwardly timed and placed. The end scene in particular doesn’t go anywhere but lingers on what should probably be a five second scene. There are a couple of similar scenes that simply rubbed me the wrong way or felt like simple filler.

And speaking of getting rubbed the wrong way I’m sure that’s how some will feel about the animation. I, for one, loved it but I can easily see complaints about the animation being jerky, jumpy and erratic. They even try to do fur movement on the models and I think for some it will be distracting. I found it to fit the style of Wes Anderson and there’s a kind of charm to be hand in its rough unevenness.

Wes Anderson has done it again by taking characters that at first glance are just simple personalities and developing these complexities around them. By the end I found myself take in by its cast, much like Anderson’s other works. Part of me want’s to say there’s not actually any depth, part of me wants to say it’s all a trick and mostly I just want to say it’s all a bunch of quirk—son of a cuss.

© 2009 James Blake Ewing