Thursday, February 25, 2010

Film Review: THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009, Wes Anderson & Mark Gustafson)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Wallace Wolodarsky, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson, Eric Chase Anderson, Brian Cox, Mario Batali, Adrien Brody. Music by Alexandre Desplat (BIRTH, THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED). Co-written by Noah Baumbach. Animation director Mark Gustafson (did claymation for RETURN TO OZ and THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN, creator of the California Raisins TV series).
Tag-line: "This year, forget super... ignore incredible... it's all about fantastic."
Best one-liner: "Excuse me? Am I being flirted with by a psychotic rat?"

Utilizing the same stop-motion animation and adorable attention to detail which make Rankin/Bass productions like MAD MONSTER PARTY the cutest shit on the planet, FANTASTIC MR. FOX fuses that aesthetic with the stilted, familial comedy of Baumbach/Anderson and the boyish dream-logic of Roald Dahl in order to create  the sort of children's movie which I can actually stomach. You know, the kind which has Willem Dafoe playing a country-drawlin', switchblade-slingin', wife-slanderin' Rat, somehow the kiddie approximation of his role as Bobby Peru in WILD AT HEART.

It's been a lifelong dream to see Bobby Peru appear in a children's movie.

Much of what I love here is due to what some would call "imperfections"- the manner in which stop-motion lends itself to spontaneous, awkward humor (i.e., the voracious rapidity with which characters eat, or how silly they look dashing across a barnyard)

or the way the animals' fur flutters during shots (because it's an actual, organic object, and not synthetic pixelation). The voice-acting is beyond first rate, not only because of the ridiculous slew of talent, but because Anderson preferred to record outdoors, replacing the sterility of the recording studio with living, breathing, tactile nature. George Clooney's incorrigible, glorious scamp; Meryl Streep's wife, a force at once blazing and soothing; Jason Schwartzman's brattish, sympathetic son (in perhaps his greatest performance to date); Michael Gambon's seething villain:

Wallace Wolodarsky's bewildered chum; or Bill Murray's irascible pushover- the voice actors are the perfect blend of tonality, timing, and role, and the film could not succeed nearly as well as it does without them. I have to wonder, though- now that Anderson has succeeded in perpetuating his vision in a (basically) controlled environment, how will he feel about returning to live action?

What would have happened if Jacques Tati had ever presided over a production using the 'Animagic' process? Well, regardless of where he chooses to go from here- five stars of pure wild animal craziness.

-Sean Gill

Side note: Animation director Mark Gustafson is not actually credited as co-director, but clearly he deserves to be.

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