Intrigued by Professor007's negative response I checked out FANTASTIC MR FOX today at the 6pm screening sans red carpet. I came to it with a different perspective, having both read the Roald Dahl short story as a child, and having seen all of Wes Anderson's movies.
The bare bones of the story are simple. Mr Fox steals chickens, cider and ham from three mean farmers in order to feed his family who live in a burrow nearby. In retaliation, the mean farmers lay siege to the fox family. Brilliantly, Mr Fox steals all their stores from under the farmers' noses, provoking the ultimate retaliation and a fantastic finish. This being Roald Dahl, the mean farmers are nasty, venal and petty, and Mr Fox is universally lauded as being clever, brave and wonderful! After all, he's forced to steal to feed his family.
Wes Anderson brings his own obsessions to the story: obsessions which at first sight were fascinating and entertaining (see my review of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS) but which now look re-hashed and tired. The character of Mr Fox (George Clooney) is simply Royal Tenenbaum as an animated fox - he's charismatic, eloquent, charming but hey - he's just going to do what he wants to do. His wife, Mrs Fox (Meryl Streep) is the classic wise, suffering mother-figure that we see again and again in Wes Anderson films, though not played by Angelica Huston this time. Mrs Fox wants Mr Fox to settle down and be responsible. They're not starving in this version, you see. Mr Fox just steals for kicks. The classic Wes Anderson dynamic carries over to the relationship between Mr Fox and his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) - a Chas Tenenbaum figure - desperate for his father's approval but always overlooked for another - in this case cousin Kristoffersen (Eric Chase Anderson). They even fight over a bored sounding love interest - I'm guessing an uncredited Angelica Huston.
You get the point. This isn't a faithful reworking of Dahl's Fantastic tale, but Wes Anderson goes animated.
So how does it all work? On one hand, I was utterly gobsmacked by the arrogance of Wes Anderson to basically steam-roller everything that made the original book so typically Dahl and just shoe-horn it into his tired MO. What was all this estate agent nonsense? And what on earth was Anderson doing in his pastiche of Battlestar Galactica's use of FRACK with his own word CUSS as in Cuss Off and Cluster-cuss? Mr Fox saving the starving little foxes is a film with stakes. Mr Fox pissed off because he can't flip his house for profit is banal.
On the other hand, you can't deny that, as with all Wes Anderson films, the visuals are beautifully imagined and rendered. George Clooney IS charming as Mr Fox - then again, he's had enough practice as Danny Ocean. The rest of the voice cast is good, with an especially fine turn by Schwartzman as stroppy son Ash. The visual humour works - it is fun to see a possum's hypnotized eyes, and dogs knocked out by valium laced blueberries.
Overall, I was disappointed but I didn't have a terrible time. The film isn't as unwatchable and patronising as THE DARJEELING LIMITED. But it isn't as original and moving as TENENBAUMS or BOTTLE ROCKET. It's a rehash - a re-casting - a re-working. I just wish Wes Anderson had the confidence, and indeed the respect, to have connected more with the source material. He really needs to shed some of his directorial ticks.
FANTASTIC MR FOX opened London 2009 and goes on release in the UK on October 23rd. It opens in the US on November 13th; in Singapore on Nov 19th; in Romania on Nov 20th; in the US on Nov 25th; in Italy on Nov 26th; in Brazil on Dec 4th; in France on Dec 23rd; in Sweden on Dec 25th; in Australia on Jan 7th; in Tawian on Jan 23rd; in Russia and Finland on Jan 28th; in Germany, Estonia and Norway on Feb 5th; in Belgium on Feb 10th; in the Netherlands on Feb 18th; in Argentina on March 4th and in Denmark on March 10th.
Eventual tags: children, animation, wes anderson, roald dahl, bill murray, goerge clooney, meryl streep, adrien brody, owen wilson, willem dafoe, jason schwartzman, brian cox, michael gambon, angelica huston, helen mccrory, roman coppola, garth jennings, jarvis cocker,