Film Reviews

Fantastic Mr Fox Wes Anderson

Rating - 9/10

This film was always bound for one of two outcomes really - it was either going to be magical or disastrous. How would a Wes Anderson production of a Roald Dahl book ever just be ‘eh‘?

I must admit an overwhelming sense of dubiousness had been hung over my head about this; his last couple of films really haven’t been anywhere near on a par to the magical intrigue and dark wonderment of Rushmore or The Royal Tennenbaums, and for me casting George Clooney as the lead seemed to only dampen my sense of expectation and hope of an illustrious and charming adaptation of a book that was a staple part of my childhood. Luckily all my doubts were put to rest, because Wes came good, real good.

Aesthetically the first thing you of course realise is the animation, and it really is quite breathtaking in a matter of moments. It’s a peculiar amalgamation and I don’t know the technical term is, but it looks a cross between stop motion animation and stuffed animals (I don‘t mean that in a real/physical sense). The effect, that is apparent instantaneously is that it adds texture, vibrancy and most importantly genuine personality. It was always going to be interesting to see how Anderson would apply his idiosyncratic directing techniques to a format that doesn’t involve human beings or real life, but Anderson actually manages to plant such a stamp of personality, authority and technique on the film that it is arguably his most interesting in years.

His use of lateral movement and block-like set-building is still apparent here and works to glorious affect. At times watching the screen during digging scenes is a little like watching somebody play an early incarnation of a Super Mario Bros. game. It seems the animation switches between this 2-D platform jumping, lateral movements to intense close-up shots of the characters faces. The transitions are quite wonderful. Anderson uses several close-up shots of the characters faces; the focus is intently on the eyes and wistful hairs that weave and wave amongst the ever subtle wind that seems to constantly blow. The eyes themselves are the pinnacle emotional element of the entire film; they single-handedly create the large majority of the affinity, affection and emotion we share with the characters. Often the eyes fill with a translucent liquid, these of course are tears, and they are used sparingly and effectively and constantly reinstate a humanistic element to the film.

Jason Schwartzman’s character Ash, perhaps steals the show. This is due to a combination of performance and script. How Anderson managed to work so many subtle intricacies and wry slices of sarcasm and cynicism into what is essentially a children’s film is a taxing thought yet a rewarding pleasure to view. It oozes so many of his usual trademarks, yet he has made it entirely enticing to children (I myself watched it with a nine year old). The script (a joint effort with previous collaborator Noah Baumbach) feels very tight and trim, and it never really loses a moment. There are a number of standout performances. Willem Dafoe as Rat and Michael Gambon as Bean are particularly fantastic, but this is because the characters themselves have been so marvellously sculpted that they evoke a charisma and enigmatic persona before they have even uttered a word. The entire film is laced with black comedic subtleties throughout. Rat is a slimy, sly and sinister character but seeps such charisma that his short appearance makes him a rather irresistible character.

Anderson has succeeded in a monumentally difficult task here and not only has he done it, he’s done it with such magnitude that it really is a stand out in his career for so many reasons. I can’t think of any film off hand that succeeds so well in ticking every adult and child box all within one film. Even some Disney Pixar films warrant a certain level of subconscious compromise because you accept you are watching a children’s film, this however does not need such compromise as the content is so strong and rewarding that it really is it’s own entity without needing to apply any labels or without having to assess its format or intent. One thing that transcends brightly in this film is passion. Anderson took on this project because he has an unadulterated love for the book, stemming from his childhood. He has clearly immersed himself in this book, its world and its characters, and it shows.

In all honesty I think this will largely be an overlooked film in terms of what it has actually achieved. Even the normal staple and integral soundtrack takes a bit of a backseat due to content, and this isn’t to say it’s lacking in that respect - the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and even a purpose written Jarvis number. This is resultantly a simple testament to the power of the finished film.