Monday, February 7, 2011

Divide This Review By Nine, Please

Today’s film is one of my recent favourite films, and was so close to becoming my favourite of last year. It’s based on a beloved children’s book by Mr Roald Dahl and was bought to the screen in an adaption of this tale, written by Wes Anderson and his long-time collaborator Noah Baumbach. It’s The Fantastic Mr Fox.

The film tells the story of the titular Mr Fox, retired hen thief, who goes to make one final big score, putting him at odds with the farmers he is planning on stealing from. This doesn’t sit well, as you would expect, and they set out to destroy him, but end up destroying his house and the local wildlands, which only ends up causing Fox and his family to run. However, the destruction caused the other animals to have to run as well, putting him at odds with them as well. So, it’s up to Fox to not only outwit the farmers once and for all, but regain the respect of his friends and family.

Along the way, Fox and his trusty opossum sidekick, Kylie, cross paths with not only the three farmers – Boggis, Bunce and Bean (one short, one fat, one mean), but also with the other members of the animal kingdom who are understandably angry that Fox’s actions lead to their homes being destroyed. Thankfully, Fox is the kind of guy (fox?) who can quickly charm them all back onto his side, so he comes up with a plan to help get them all housed and fed, bring himself back to hero status in the eyes of everyone.

The first thing you notice about this film is that, yes, it’s a Wes Anderson film. The man has one of the most recognisable styles in moviemaking today, and proves it above all else with this film. Even though it is entirely wire-frame stop motion animated, his touches are all over the thing, however he has mixed things up just enough to be different. From his use of Helvetica in place of Futura (the Wes Anderson Font) for most of the written words featured to the fact that the cast contains more newcomers than his regulars, yet the film manages to remain as Anderson as it could be. 

Even though it is different, several Anderson regulars – Bill Murray, Willem Defoe, Owen Wilson and a surprisingly tolerable Jason Schwartzman all lend their vocal talents to the film. In addition, we get several newcomers to the Anderson family, none the least, George Clooney as Fox, proving once again that there is nothing that this man cannot do. He fills Fox with so much of that Clooney brand charm and debonair sass that it’s impossible to hear any other voice coming out of the character. To be fair, everyone is great in this, which is a good thing, as given the nature of it, were the voices off, the whole project could have come crashing down. Thankfully, every character has been cast perfectly and helped imbue the film with so much life and charm that it’s impossible not to like.

Hell, it’s not just the voices that have the charm here. The whole project is flat out charming – the kind of charm that you don’t see in movies these days. Sop motion animation is a style that Anderson has long been a fan of, and getting to work it for this film was a dream project for him – and it shows. The whole project exudes a kind of Mid-country pastoral charm that I would only assume would have been going through Dahl’s mind when he wrote the original story. Plus, not only does Anderson get the original story down, he (and Baumbach) have managed to extend the world around it in such a natural feeling way that it gives the feel of having been that way all along, and not just a cynical story stretch to make a movie out of something that could barely be an episode.

Even though this is a Wes Anderson film, it’s not just he (and the vocal talent) who should be getting all the respect here. There are a LOT of people who worked on the look of the film to get it just right – none the least the team from MacKinnon and Saunders who were charged with making the puppets, and whose skill at manipulating them and bringing them to life helped so much to make this film an amazing experience.

All in all, I absolutely love this film. Not only is it my favourite Wes Anderson film, but it’s probably one of my all time favourites in general. If you haven’t seen it, you really should.

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