Monday, December 7, 2009

Crazy Like a Fox

Last week, after many good intentions and empty proclamations, it finally happened.  Yes, I went back to a movie theater and paid to see a film somewhere other than the comfort of my own home for the first time in over a year.  I have to say, I missed it more than I thought.  It was the middle of a Monday, so it wasn't like I had to deal with any protracted search for a seat, but even the thrill of deciding where best to take it all in came rushing back in a way I hadn't expected.  I frequently argue that movies are too fleeting, character and story-wise, to be worth the effort, but I had forgotten something very important: when it is worth it, it's the only way to go.

Anyway, the movie I saw, in case you hadn't figured it out by now, was Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox, and I wanted to say a few things about it.  If you haven't seen it and intend to, stop here.  Seriously, last chance to remain untainted.  I warned you...  Mr. Fox is Keyser Soze!  Ok, not really.  But he is very entertaining.

The film is based on a Roald Dahl novel I never read, but with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches to his credit, I had a good idea of what I was in for.  The original apparently revolves around Mr. Fox and his efforts to steal from evil farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean, and their attempts in turn to catch and kill him and his family.  The movie keeps that as its basic idea, but Anderson and his writing partner Noah Baumbach have created a larger community that includes badger lawyers, squirrel real estate agents, opossum handymen and beaver bullies, and made Fox's assault on the farmers' stashes more of a "one last job" ego trip.  Once the farmers, led by Bean, retaliate, all of the animals we've met are affected and eventually have to band together.

If this were just a standard animation job, it probably wouldn't be nearly as charming, but the stop-motion they use is quite impressive, as are the detailed puppets.  There are several scenes of the animals dancing victoriously over a successful raid, and just the sight of them all in a wide shot, bouncing around, was enough to make me laugh every time.  They're all civilized and well spoken, but when they eat it's like the Tasmanian devil from Looney Tunes, all snarls and flying food.  In one scene, when Fox and his lawyer, Badger, disagree about something, they throw up their arms menacingly and growl while circling each other before finally settling down.  Little touches like those give the film a lot of its personality.

Of course, without quality voice-acting, none of this would matter very much, but luckily Anderson has assembled an excellent cast.  George Clooney is perfect as the sly but arrogant Mr. Fox, and Michael Gambon oozes villainy as Bean.  Other Anderson regulars Bill Murray (Badger), Jason Schwartzman (Fox's son, Ash), Owen Wilson (Coach Skip) and Willem Dafoe (Rat) all show up, as does former Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker, of all people (yes, he does get to sing).  And even though it's animated the movie has Anderson's fingerprints all over it, employing his love of dry, deadpan humor, title screens, and cutaway shots showing the entire community the animals have made for themselves while on the run.

I'm tempted to just recount all the parts that I found touching, or funny, or innovative, but I'll let you discover that for yourselves.  But take it from someone who's developed an extremely skeptical eye when it comes to movies recently: this is a world you want to visit, even if only for an hour and a half.


Matthew Minegar said...

I've been wanting to watch it ever since I read your review. We finally made it out and saw it a month or so ago. The two things that I thought separated it from other movies were the way the characters moved and the soundtrack. Such a great soundtrack. I'm going to have to buy it soon. Gotta love all the Jew's harping and whistling.

Hatfield said...

Pitch! I'm glad I could point you in the right direction, but even gladder you liked it.