Saturday 17 October 2009

Review: Fanatsic Mr Fox

Year: 2009
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Starring: George Clooney, Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, Michal Gambon, Jason Schwartzman

Plot synopsis is here

While I'd admire the fact that authors such J.K Rowling and Dan Brown have got a generation reading again in an age where the most complicated read is text speak, they've never captured the creativity and wit that Roald Dahl brought to me when I was younger. Hell even now I still class Boy as one of the books I'd need on a desert island. From The Twits to The Adventures of Henry Sugar this was a man who had me enthralled by the art of story telling from a young age. I even remember going to the Dahl Museum when I was younger and if it still stands when I have kids, that's where they'll be going on their holidays too.

Imagine my surprise when I heard about Wes Anderson's plans to film an adaptation of Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox. The talk of this development started in 2004, and only now does the spoils of labour have appeared. Why? because Anderson has decided to film the movie as stop animation as opposed to the now more common CGI.

Dahl's books have been adapted for cinema with varying degrees of success with perhaps the most famous of them being disliked by the author himself. Anderson approaches the story as an American paying tribute to the material, the stop animation not only gives the film a vivid amount of detail and style but also gives the film an English feel that would have been lost if filmed in another way. The look of the film is allegedly inspired by the Buckinghamshire village of Great Missenden where Dahl lived and worked. As someone whose not only born and bred in Bucks but lives so close to this village I could lick the place, it's clear to say that Anderson has done his homework. The look of the film may not dazzle like the vast landscapes of the excellent UP, but it has a unique homely feel that evokes the spirit of the book it has taken it's ques from.

With the surroundings almost firmly in place (explain later) Anderson, then makes the film his own. Utilizing his themes of dysfunctional families and huge egos to his utmost, Anderson makes the films central message one about pride. Like the aforementioned UP, the film doesn't pander to it's younger audience in any shape for form, nor does it ram it's morals down their throat. Fantastic Mr Fox merely lies it's cards on the table as is, presenting it's message in it's clearest form. As great as our talents are, we must sometimes rely on others to get the best out of them.

Semi-serious moments aside, the film is hilarious with many of the films best comic moments in the first act. By not watering down any elements, or pandering to peoples knowledge of pop culture (for the most part, explain later), the film manages to get away with moments of almost outrageous humor. One of the main reasons for this is the screenplay dialogue which exercises a strong use of the English language. When characters talk, none of them are condensing to each other, and the audiences reaction when I watched it merely enforces the fact that you don't have to dumb things down just for a cheap laugh.

This is not to say, it's not without it's flaws, sometimes the film's American sensibilities get in the way of the "Englishness" of the whole proceedings. Fox's whistle is a natty little trademarks, but anyone with cinema savvy will know that it's nabbed from Donald Sutherland's Hawkeye from the American anti-war classic M.A.S.H. The mixture of moods sometimes clash, but no more than feeling a little odd.

This brings me on to the voice acting, which despite clearly having these actors cast to bolster the U.S market, their voices are cast because because they're are truly right for the part. Clooney once again lends his charm to the proceedings, managing to carry the weighty aspects of Mr Fox (yeah, seriously) while still being light hearted. Streep is great foil for him as his long suffering wife. Jason Schwartzman's grumpy Ash is a wonderful addition to the story, while Bill Murray, Willem Defoe and Michel Gambon are as reliable as they always are.

Fanastic Mr Fox doesn't stick as close to the material as more rabid fans would probably have liked, but unlike say, Tim Burton's visually stunning, emotionally hollow Charlie and the chocolate factory, Anderson's film brings around more Dahl spirit than one may think. When it moves away from the book, it's not for the directors own pretensions, but to assist to themes of the story. Something that even Dahl himself would be proud of.

Hear more talk on this film at Geekplanetonline