Monday, November 30, 2009

A Love Letter to: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

hi all. so, saw the movie and felt deeply compelled to write something down about it (I'll try and make it short and sweet with NO SPOILERS):

I'll just start by saying when I saw the trailer for The Fantastic Mr. Fox I was terrified. Wes Anderson is probably my favorite working director and I would love nothing more than to have my hero make nothing but perfect films but this looked really bad. The puppet designs and the animation combined with George Clooney's voice just bugged the crap out of me. They looked like walking wire animal corpses nailed to wood planks like those bargain eBay taxidermied squirrels you see online.

..I just thought, "how could a director with such an amazing eye choose such odd character designs. I'll admit I miss 90% of animated features mostly due to the character designs. Art Of books on the other hand are always amazing with promising character designs that never see the light of day.

I walked into the film after turkey and in the middle of nowhere where the choice was between Mr. Fox and Ninja Assassin and as I bought my ticket and went into the empty theater thought, "Oh man, this is gonna blow." Then it started. Admittedly it took me about 5 to 10 minutes to accept the look of it. It's still jarring. And then the story unfolded and soon I was in heaven watching the most skillfully made children's film since Nightmare Before Christmas play out.

Again, I don't wanna give any of the great plot away but will simply touch on the major things:


It's impossible to write about Mr. Anderson's stories without talking about his dialogue. I would say that I prefer him writing with Owen Wilson (their last film together was The Royal Tanenbaums). The Life Aquatic was written with Noah Baumbach and I felt it was his most mean spirited film although beautiful lacked the wide eyed wonder and sweetness he had with Owen as a writing partner. So I was worried about the two getting back together for this film. Ok, saying that this is completely a non-issue. The film's sincerity is it's heart and blood and never feels angry (cough*Where the Wild Things Are*burp) or formulaic. Every character has a way of talking and conversing that feels real and honest. Unlike most non-Pixar films the lines aren't designed to give everybody equal screentime. Some characters speak quickly, some don't say much at all no matter how big the star. And it takes a master script writer to manage a story like this with so many characters.

The story of Mr. Fox leading his family and town to ruin and redemption is one played out as a slow burn. It reminded me of the qualities of Clooney's character in O Brother, Where Art Thou? where he just gets so excited in his schemes that he can't see what it's doing to those around him (a repeated theme ala Max Fisher) but his character arc and how he learns his lessons never felt false. And at the core of the movie this is what's essential: Mr. Fox's journey. And in the end when he changes his ways he tears up and I was right there with him. As a topper to this there's an amazing character moment between him and a black wolf as he sees the world with new eyes. One of the best and truest sequences I've seen in anything.

That's another thing: the story breathes so much allowing the characters to have little moments. Stop and just be which you rarely ever see in children's films. True character moments. Most kid's features dumb it down resting on cut-away gags and pop culture references to get the audience to simply say, "HA! I know what that from!".


This might have been one of the best parts. I'm so used to sitting in these films and saying, "Larry the Cable Guy, Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Miley..." as they get crammed into these films depending on who's hot at the time. I'd KILL to see a list of who the original choices for the film leads are in these kid flicks because since it takes 4 years + to complete I can't imagine people like Andy Sandberg did the original records.

The voice choices were absolutely perfect. Yes, there were lots of Anderson favorites but every character who came on and started talking matched their design perfectly and all had distinct tenors. When casting I get obsessed with actor's tones. If somebody has a deep voice they should own that level and not be stepped on by another actor with a similar quality to ensure we always understand who's talking. Mr. Fox did this brilliantly.

Major props go to Willem Defoe as the Rat. His mouth shapes and weird lispy takes on words made for one of the most timeless animated characters.


As I said before watching the trailer the movement scared me and took a bit to get used to. With that said the animation was gorgeous. Wes shot this like a play as are most of his movies but with that comes a discipline on how these characters will move. The camera almost always goes up/down/left/right so the acting comes from silhouette which is animation acting 101 but pushed to a new style level since this is real fur and cloth.

I learned to respect the choice to let the fur move oddly, and letting the animation be kinda choppy. One of my favorite stories from Team America is hearing that Matt and Trey made the puppeteers not move the marionettes perfectly because it wasn't as funny or interesting. It makes for an experience that feels more textural rather than Coraline perfection.


So, as I bitched at the start of this over the topic of art direction, specifically character design -here's where I back peddle: I loved the fur and cloth and odd human qualities to the designs. It's a ballsy choice but as the story played out I understood it. He went anti-smooth.

With that said you can't deny the awe inspiring qualities to Wes Anderson's obsession with details. The paintbrushes in Mrs. Fox's dress pouch, the yellow Adidas on Kristofferson's feet. More than wanting to see this again on the big screen I'm ready for Blu-Ray to pause and admire every shot.

I highly recommend running to the Arclight Hollywood to see one of the sets. I wanted to haul it out onto my car roof and take it home.


Jarvis Cocker did such a great job. I believe 2 songs are featured. So funny and self aware. The punchline to the first made me laugh out loud. These aren't crowbarred in or made to be singles. So great.

AND nothing's better than hearing the Rolling Stones during a kick-ass montage. Bravo!


It truly is a timeless film with no pop culture references or sarcastic dialogue. It reminded me of The Charlie Brown Christmas where the characters are respectful of one another and didn't stray from things like death and guns or even drinking liquor.

It's a film not made to beat Twilight and launch BK Kid's meals. It's one that is reissued by Criterion Collection and bound in leather. It's one to watch when you're old and want to show your own kids.

It'll be tough to side with it or Up for the Oscars this year. Cheers to both Pixar and Fox for paying for such beautifully ballsy projects.

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