My original review of Fantastic Mr. Fox was oddly brief and non-complete, especially for a Wes Anderson fan and completest like me. I look back at that review and I find it slapdash and non-deserving of such few superlatives.
Nearly half a year has gone by since the film was originally released in theaters and is now available on home video and I’ve got a lot more to say, particularly with where Fantastic Mr. Fox belongs within the Wes Anderson filmography.
Full disclosure: I’m a gigantic Wes Anderson fan and you can find a in-depth essay I wrote about his work as an auteur filmmaker.The essay discusses Anderson’s signature style and frequent elements that he continuously uses.
Fantastic Mr. Fox begins with the original book displayed prominently very much like The Royal Tenenbaums, this time with a library label on the bottom of the book. Once we are presented with the book, the film includes chapter titles, again like The Royal Tenenbaums. This book-like quality is important to Anderson’s cinema which is more like an fairytale with adult themes.
The highly detailed stop-motion animation is not only a homage to the form, but a throw-back to retro-styled cartoons and merges perfectly with Anderson’s unique blocking. Anderson takes advantage of the stop-motion form by offering excellent depth in scenes and highly detailed objects. He uses wide-long shots for master shots to give the viewer a chance to take in the beauty and detail of the miniatures.
This film is the first time Anderson offers a direct antagonist since Rushmore, although Max initially admired Herman Blume, and would later attempt to reunite Blume and Ms. Cross.
Fantastic Mr. Fox, like all of Anderson’s films, are stories of the protagonist(s) trying to redeem themselves or attain their past glory. Like the Tenenbaums once great child prodigies, Zissou’s chain of box-office hits and Max Fischer’s prime plays; Mr. Fox recalls the better days of steal chickens and squabs.
Wes Anderson again weaves classic rock and original music together for another glorious soundtrack. The soundtrack even includes an upbeat and catchy spin on the poem that opens the book and film.
Anderson’s Call-Backs and Signatures
Anderson’s films often call upon the group to cooperate and be debriefed for the upcoming mission. The heist-like nature of Mr. Fox draws from Bottle Rocket and to some degree, the B&E and rescue mission in The Life Aquatic.
The motherly figures in Anderon’s films are very much like ghostly oracles that the main character relies on. Mrs. Fox is essentially a foxified version of Anjelica Huston’s previous characters in Anderson’s films.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first time where parents are present and play prominent roles in the film. Parents were entirely absent from Bottle Rocket, only Max’s father (Seymor Cassel) was seen in Rushmore and barely mattered. The Royal Tenenbaums features both parents, albeit separated and emotionally alienated entirely from their family. The Life Aquatic discusses Ned’s mother and he assumes that Zissou is his father, although we find out the truth later. Last, we have Darjeeling Limited where the father has died and the mother has secluded herself in India and even bolts upon being discovered.
One of my favorite call-backs of Anderson’s style is the unstoppable and feared animal found in his films in this current portion of his career. The Life Aquatic is about Zissou’s attempt to assassinate the jaguar shark that killed Esteban and the Indian village in The Darjeeling Limited fears a man-eating tiger. Fantastic Mr. Fox includes a playful fear of wolves where the characters become briefly paranoid over the slightest mention of a wolf. Like in the previous films mentioned, Mr. Fox finally encounters the wolf to discover beauty at first hand and experience that ignorance is fear.
Kristofferson’s acceptance into the Fox household where Ash becomes jealous is a common style in Anderson’s films. Kristofferson excels at sports, yoga, meditation and a variety of hobbies all which impresses Mr. Fox at Ash’s expense. This is a similar event to The Life Aquatic where Zissou accepts Kingsley into Team Zissou on the rumor that Kingsley is his son. Klaus is immediately jealous, looking for any form of acceptance with Zissou.
The performances in Fantastic Mr. Fox are all superb and match the Anderson’s stylistic nature. George Clooney’s performance in this film is a perfect match for Mr. Fox by remaining energetic and delivering classic Anderson quips perfectly. Meryl Streep fills in the ghost-like mother character, a often used characteristic of older women in Anderson’s films. Anjelica Huston excelled at this ghostly mother figure for three straight Anderson films, and Streep’s adaptation of the staple character is perfect.
Overall, the talents have been accurately matched to their respective characters and animals. Murray’s performance as a skunk is impeccable. Jason Schwartman’s Ash Fox is creatively awkward, and far better awkward that the awkwardness that most movies strive to provide. For a time period where awkwardness is accepted, yet so cliché in cinema, Anderson pulls it off better than anyone.
Anderson left The Darjeeling Limited with a somewhat unsatisfactory ending, and overall felt loose compared to his other films. Fantastic Mr. Fox makes up for lost time and in the age just prior to 3D films taking over the screens with computer generated animation, it is refreshing to see high-production values and quality stop-motion animation flatter the silver screen again.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is another excellent submission from this highly talented auteur and should refresh the overall image of Anderson with additional momentum for his next feature. Fun and certainly fantastic, this film reveals Anderson’s child-like wonder and nature, and should also reveal yours as well. Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of those films that you can just wrap yourself in a blanket on a rainy weekend afternoon and get lost in this childish fantasy. I look forward to those moments.