Saturday, November 14, 2009

Movie with Abe: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Directed by Wes Anderson
Released November 13, 2009

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” comes from three very different minds. The source material is the 1970 children’s book by Roald Dahl, treasured author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, among others, whose creative vision produced numerous adored stories that transcend audience demographics. The co-screenwriter is Noah Baumbach, who specializes in harrowing portraits of dysfunctional families (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding”). The screenwriter and director is Wes Anderson, whose unbounded imagination has created colorful characters and scenarios in films like “The Darjeeling Limited” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.” The intersection of those three distinctive personalities makes for a wondrously intriguing and wildly imaginative product.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” exists in a fantasy world where animals speak with words and live in homes furnished just much like human households. Mr. Fox moves his family into a nice tree near the farms of three prominent industry titans, and his first visit to the dwelling is exactly like a realtor’s tour of a house on the market. This kind of humanlike behavior simply happens, and it’s never indicated that this is out of the ordinary, or that the animals are trying to mimic humans. This is simply how things work in this world, and entering this universe secures passage to a marvelous tale of family, friends, and adventure.

Mr. Fox, the title character, seeks first and foremost to protect and take care of his family, but finds himself distracted by his animal impulses to steal and scavenge. When his selfish stealing from the farmers gets the better of him and threatens to endanger the livelihood of his fellow animals, he steps up to try and burrow a way out of his figurative hole. His quest to redeem himself and save his community is filled with plenty of humor, but also a good deal of heart. Mr. Fox waxes philosophic more often than not, and the way he interacts with his dutiful deputy Badger, his son Ash, and his nephew Kristofferson convey much about the kind of father and friend he wants to be.

More importantly than adhering closely to genre in terms of being a comedy or a drama, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is an adventure movie. It’s remarkably entertaining and compelling the whole way through. There’s much to be explored within the realm of the animals and the humans, and the foxes’ penchant for digging comes in handy for discovering new directions for the story to take. The use of stop-motion animation makes this wonderful world come alive. The visuals are mesmerizing and the animation is magnificent. This film’s storytelling abilities are enhanced by the possibilities of animation, and Mr. Dahl’s classic story can be seen in a whole new stunning light rather than ruined by this big-screen adaptation. The voice cast, led by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray, is entirely fantastic. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a film for people of all ages, and maybe not just people. Check the local listings for your nearest foxhole – there’s bound to be a showing in the theater at the base of the oak tree in your backyard.


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