After a short scene in 2004′s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou utilizing the stop motion animations of Henry Selick, filmmaker Wes Anderson aimed to combine the technique with his usual cleverness for a full-length narrative. Anderson’s first animated film and an adaptation of British author Roald Dahl’s beloved book is short of fantastic.
Fantastic Mr. Fox frolics somewhere in between Anderson’s signature style and a mainstream production, an awkward mix of dry humor and childlike whimsy that tiptoes the line between age groups. It’s not without its plucky delights, but the gags are scattered through a wholly self-indulgent farce.
Written with Life Aquatic co-writer Noah Baumbach, the eccentric tone and vibrant, artistic flourishes are characteristic Anderson, and it’s autumnal color scheme is a nice touch for the vintage look and indie feel.
The painstaking craftsmanship is to be appreciated. A crew assembled incredible sequences by intricately re-positioning each critter by hand, but the stop-motion animated result is choppy and the characters resemble taxidermy more than lifelike creature design.
The cast may be wild animals, but the deadpan delivery remains the same behind the blank stares of puppets, voiced by Anderson’s personal friends and family and a few new favorites.
George Clooney’s titular fox is a sly former bird thief and family man pushing for one last heist. Rushmore‘s Jason Schwartzman plays Ash, a consolidation of the four children from the book into a misunderstood son, and Eric Anderson (Wes’s cousin) voices Kristofferson, an athlete who steals attention from Ash. Meryl Streep neither adds nor subtracts anything as Mrs. Fox, who serves only to set up Clooney’s bits. Bill Murray’s subtlety doesn’t translate and the badger lawyer feels more like Garfield than it should. Choice comedic parts are saved for Owen Wilson, a ferret who coaches a rousing game of whackbat, and Willem Dafoe, a rat lookout.
The familiar themes of individuality and the importance of family are present here as they are in Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze’s adaptation of a children’s story just a month earlier. However, like Wild Things, this story isn’t for kids. Mr. Fox gets “existential” and other references that will whiz over the heads of the younger crowd, and the dialogue skirts the PG rating by replacing adult language with the word “cuss” (.e.g “this is all just a cluster cuss”).
Their antics are set to typically offbeat music choices by Anderson that combines a musical score by Alexandre Desplat, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” and the Beach Boy’s “Ol’ Man River.” His followers will recognize this, along with his side-scrolling shots, returning actors, and quirky fingerprints all over the animation. In doing more of the same, the auteur doesn’t bring anything fresh to his own recycled style or to stop-motion as a whole.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been particularly fond of uneven stop-motion animation, and I’ve found Wes Anderson’s quirky comedies to be hit or miss. I realize my lukewarm opinion on the film falls firmly in the minority, but Fantastic Mr. Fox just did not cussin’ charm me like it did other critics.
2.5 out of 5.