Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Directed by Wes Anderson. Featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Eric Anderson and Wallace Wolodarsky.
Gala Screening

Full disclosure: I’m pretty much in the tank for Wes Anderson so it shouldn’t come as a shock that I loved Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not everyone is as enamored of Anderson’s insular, detailed cinematic universe, but stop motion animation might just be the perfect medium for it. It allows him to have complete control over every detail and here he takes advantage of it to great effect. Plus, being animated, it diffuses the arguments of those who dismiss Anderson’s shtick as hipster style over substance.  It’s a cartoon based on a children’s story. You can only get so uptight about it before you start sounding like an asshole.

Having said that, the intentionally lo-fi style of the animation will likely disappoint those weaned on the flashier techniques of modern animation, even the stop motion variety found in films like Coraline. Here the emphasis is on gesture, expression, voice acting and genuine emotion more than it is on the latest effects. Fantastic Mr. Fox’s willfully old-fashioned style diffuses some of Anderson’s more mannered affectations and lends the film an innocence and a charm you might find in a production from the Max Fischer Players. It’s a welcome throwback to the old Rankin Bass animated holiday specials I grew up on.

None of it would work if the voice cast didn’t do terrific work. George Clooney doesn’t have to push himself in order play the lovable rogue type, but he dials back the Clooney a little bit and blends in with his character. It’s a perfect match. Meryl Streep is also great as Mrs. Fox. She keeps the film from becoming Clooney’s picture even though her character is more reactive than active. Both leads fit nicely into the deadpan style already mastered by the supporting cast of Anderson favorites Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Wally Wolodarsky and Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman especially delivers as Ash, the determined by slightly bitter son of the Fabulous Mr. and Mrs.

As you’d expect, Anderson delivers another winning soundtrack. This time he recruits the great (and suddenly everywhere) Alexandre Desplat for a score that sometimes evokes the twinky style of frequent Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh, but also charts its own territory. In addition to an original song by Jarvis Cocker, there is the usual compliment of precisely chosen oldies that Anderson is known for, though fewer in number than he sometimes deploys.

This is the second auteur driven film dressed up as a kid’s movie this year following Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Though I wonder how little kids will respond to Anderson’s laid back style and lack of obvious jokes, I think Fox does a bit better of a job in the pure entertainment department. Where Wild Things was a difficult and sometimes mopey film, Fox never forgets to have fun and it’s as close as the low key Anderson has ever come to outright exuberance.

Though it’s slighter than the competition and of Anderson’s other films, that’s not to say Fantastic Mr. Fox is empty headed. To the contrary, there’s a surprising depth of feeling and an emotional resonance to the plight of Fox himself and that of his son Ash. They’re a rootable pair and you want to see them succeed on their own terms as well as in each other’s carefully modeled eyes.

Everyone Else

Everyone Else
Directed by Maren Ade. Starring Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger.
New Lights Competition

I don’t want to say that this winner of the Silver Bear at the most recent Berlin International Film Festival is a bad film. It’s not. It’s well crafted and exceptionally well acted, but the relationship between the two lead characters is never very interesting and you almost can’t wait for it to fly apart so the end credits will mercifully roll and you can go home.

Chris is a mopey intellectual and Gitti is his more spontaneous and free spirited girlfriend. They’re a couple of scruffy Europeans on holiday in Sardinia slowly melting down in arthouse fashion. The problem is, they never make a compelling argument for staying together and at no time did I care whether they did or didn’t.

Gitti manages to come off the most sympathetic, Chris is mostly just a jerk to her, but even she starts to seem more than a little bit crazy. In the end I was left wondering why the pair was wasting each other’s time and why they were wasting mine. It’s not uncommon for me to get so impatient with a movie at a film festival where there are too many movies and too little time, but this is the first time it’s happened so quickly.

6 Responses to “AFI Fest: Fantastic and not-so-fantastic”

  1. It’s a cartoon based on a children’s story. You can only get so uptight about it before you start sounding like an asshole.

    LMAO at that. I’m glad you liked the movie though – I know that it was one you were really anticipating.

  2. Really enjoyed these first two festival reviews and looking forward to many more. Keep up the great work Craig.

  3. So tell me, Monsieur Crabcake…

    Did Street Fighting Man make it into the final cut of FMF? Or was it strictly a trailer typical exercise?

    I won’t sleep tonight until I know…

  4. Here’s hoping Miranda gets some sleep because “Street Fighting Man” is definitely in the film and Wes Anderson even cut a video using the film’s characters to the tune that will debut shortly. The soundtrack album include Desplat’s score music, Stones, Beach Boys, Bobby Fuller Four and even “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Fun!

  5. Thank you for that, Mr. Merlis.

    There are so few people out there (in cyberspace and elsewhere) that really know what they’re talking about any more.

    NIce to see that that still happens occasionally…

  6. Yes Miranda, as Bob says, Street Fighting Man is present and accounted for.

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