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Review – Fantastic Mr. Fox

Click poster for more info.

Click poster for more info.

With the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman; Directed by Wes Anderson; Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor. 87 minutes.

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.This reviewer has a confession: he lacks the genetic component that so many of his colleagues have that causes them to praise the vacuous, pretentious and annoying films of Wes Anderson. Where they swoon over “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” this reviewer sees only empty posturing by characters whose chief attribute is that they are members of dysfunctional families. Now Anderson has inflicted himself on the animated film, and the swooning has begun anew. It doesn’t make FANTASTIC MR. FOX any better.

Based on a story by Roald Dahl, the film follows the misadventures of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), who wants to get out of a hole in the ground and live in a tree, but just can’t help himself from stealing from the local farmers. He promises to go straight, but the three biggest farmers have such juicy chickens and ducks and turkeys. He’s promised Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) that he will be more responsible, but when his daring raids continue, the farmers declare war not just on him but on all the animals who live in and around the tree.

The film is frustrating in several ways. First, Anderson has chosen to do this in stop motion animation which means there were models of the various characters which had to be moved a bit at a time as they were filmed frame by frame. It’s a painstaking process which Anderson apparently felt he could short circuit by offering many shots that are simply close ups of the characters. Therein lies the problem.

These are furry creatures. Every time they are ever so slightly adjusted the adjuster can’t help but touch the fur. What we see is the fur moving, seemingly of its own free will. This proves to be very distracting. Apparently if you have the Wes Anderson fandom gene, you don’t notice this or else you come not to care.

Second, while we expect weirdness and even scariness from Dahl – whose children’s books include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Witches,” and “Matilda” – showing Mr. Fox with a dead chicken in his jaws is a bit disconcerting. Later he has to deal with his tail being shot off and, in the apparent comic highlight of the film, outwit a rabid dog. This is not a dog with a faceful of whipped cream mistaken for rabies but one who is actually rabid. Animal amputation and rabies seem odd topics for a children’s film.

Finally there is the general nature of the characters who whine and lie and cajole, since they are, after all, characters in a Wes Anderson movie. This is the director who shoulders the blames for boosting the careers of performers like Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson, both of whom provide voices here. To those of us immune to Anderson’s films, that’s indictment enough.

Those who profess to like his films may find the same charms in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Let’s hope the cure comes soon.•••

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.

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About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

16 responses »

  1. It’s a visually compelling film that manages to find a fine balance between story, character development, and childish fun. Even Jason Schwartzman, who I personally feel has given diminishing returns in his last few films, does a great job.

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  2. Your quibbles with the film range from minor (the animation was distracting to you because…the hair moved) to personal. What is your vendetta with Wes Anderson? You truly never expound on why his films offend you so much. When you’re reviewing a film, take it for what it is. Always go into the theater “tabula rasa” and leave your baggage at the box office.

    Oh and do you really think kids can’t handle some (literally) fluffy violence and rabies? “Old Yeller” anyone? Remember PG stands for parental guidance…

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  3. I’m not a fan of Wes Anderson movies, and while Fantastic Mr. Fox did follow the same formula of Wes Anderson movies (Dysfunctional family, main character past their prime, loose loose loose plot) I did like this one a hell of a lot more than any of his other movies.

    Your review is totally unconvincing. It’s a good movie and all your points against that seem to be able to be defeated by a simple “So what? That doesn’t take anything away from the movie as a whole”, nor do they accumulate into anything that would also take away from the film.

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  4. Daniel M. Kimmel

    I realize I’m in the minority on this film (not alone, but the minority) and I’m content to let others have their say. But I must take issue with the comment that my review failed to “convince” the reader. My job isn’t to convince anyone of anything. It’s, first, to provide information about the movie and, second, offer my opinion. If you read the review and got the information to decide you would like it even if I didn’t — or vice versa — then the review *worked*. I’m not trying to force anyone to agree with me.

    As for the other views expressed, I would happily debate them elsewhere but here I have the somewhat “privileged” position as the reviewer, so I’ll let other people have their say without comment.

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  5. The first of your concerns doesn’t seem all that valid. You are right, stop motion animation is a painstaking process with a lot of forethought put into it. This next statement comes with the note that I don’t know this for sure, but I took a second to think about it which might seem unusual. These are the same animators that did corpse bride, pros, the top people in the exclusive club of stop motion animators. So that moving fur and homemade look to the set pieces is more than likely part of the overall art direction. The animators could have used any material that they wanted to for the animation but they specifically chose that material for fur knowing that it would move.

    And as for your other complaints; just because the principal subjects of the film are woodland creatures does not mean that the plot has to be directed specifically for children or that it has to be all that wholesome. Part of the charm of Mr. Fox is that the characters aren’t really all that likeable in a variety of ways (possibly less so than in other Anderson movies). Well I’ll stop trolling, but I leave with this- I love Wes Anderson’s work (I’ll admit it) but when I look at a movie objectively I leave my prejudices or preferences at the door.

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  6. Daniel M. Kimmel

    I didn’t like “Corpse Bride” either, for what it’s worth. And “professionals” were responsible for some of the worst films Hollywood has produced — movies that you and I might agree were trash — so that argument doesn’t hold water. The professionals make their judgments and the critics make theirs. Otherwise “Transformers 2″ would be immune from criticism.

    As for going into a movie like a blank slate, I do not consider that my role. My role is to be open about how I’m approaching the film so the reader can judge for themselves as to whether they will share my view or not. I am always ready to have my mind changed. Case in point, I despised Jim Carrey until I saw “The Truman Show,” which I subsequently cited as the best film of that year.

    Wes Anderson has yet to give me any reason to change my mind about his films, including the present one.

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  7. You couldn’t be more wrong. Easily the best movie of 2009, Wes Anderson is a genius.

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  8. I am a fan of Anderson’s work, but will admit, that his latter work was a bit loose and meandering, although I have found enough substance, humor and all too rare trademark style to enjoy even those. I think his movies have his trademark style in aid of substance quite similarly to acceptable-to-great animation/illustration. Actually it’s strange he hasn’t made an animated movie earlier in his career.

    Mr. Anderson’s work mainly works for those who will require depth of character, but rather take shots of bitter reality with something sweet to compensate/punctuate/elevate the subject.

    I found myself disliking cinematic works posing as entertainment with a cynical and nihilistic heart, and many of those even come without a brain nowadays. So I don’t expect too much from new Anderson films, but I know they won’t make me angry. And since with “Mr. Fox,” the writing has been taken better care of than his latter two films, I think it might end up being lastingly successful.

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  9. Ok so I liked “Rushmore,” But recently saw “Royal Tennenbaums” and didn’t like it as much as i remembered the first time. But I thought “Life Aquatic” and “Darjeerling Limited” sucked for many of the same reasons I suspect you did. As a result, I went into this movie thinking this would be Anderson”s last chance with me given his downward projection.

    But I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked this one. Surprised you didn’t give him any credit for snappy dialog and altogether funny bits like the whole “cuss” thing (which I expect will be appropriated by many, including me).

    It was a good movie, man. Seems unfair to let the fact that you don’t like Wes Anderson bias your review. Like I said, I was/am down on him too, but I’m telling my friends to go see it. One of the better pieces of work of the year, IMHO.

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  10. mountaineerordinaire

    On a scale from 1 to 10, I rate Daniel M. Kimmel’s review a 10.

    After seeing FMF, I continue to say the only Wes Anderson film I’ve like is Rushmore. Visually, FMF starts interesting, stays peculiar, shuffles into uneven, and eventually and worst of all, just plain dull.

    Fifteen minutes into the film, while seated next to my 10-yr-old son who seemed nearly as bored as me, I realized I didn’t note the length of the film which led me to hope it was closer to 75 minutes than 90 or 120.

    Coraline, the stop action film, is far superior.

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  11. While I am familiar with the stance that you do not expect the reader to be convinced by your reviews or automatically agree with your stance – you obviously take effort to have these opinions published. That invites scrutiny.

    One of the key themes of The Fantastic Mr. Fox was the strengths and weaknesses we all harbor, and how these can interact. We, sir, are clearly different species of film viewer.

    I saw a film that bravely represented a beloved book by a classic author, cleverly detailing the perils of resisting our fundamental natures – and the sometimes equal danger of accepting them. I saw a refreshing degree of imagination in how the world was rendered. I admired the convention-bending moments of a farmer considering a tiny landscape painting. I still laugh when I remember and four small animals (on a motorcycle) pausing to appreciate another animal.

    Meanwhile – you saw close-ups of fur that moved oddly and emitted voices belonging to actors you do not like, sadly made more famous by a director you are “immune to.”

    Is it wise to even bother reviewing a movie by a director you are so deeply opposed to that it is impossible for you to even start to consider the merit? Or do you feel it is your duty to publish your arguably shallow review in hopes of “curing” people that find enjoyment where you cannot?

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  12. I thought the movie dragged and dragged as well as being extremely predictable. I was very disappointed. Save your money and watch the DVD!

    Michelle

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  13. Thank you, Daniel Kimmel, for having the guts to say the Emperor Has No Clothes. My daughter (17) and I both thought this film horrifyingly dull, mean-spirited, and creepy. I suppose Wes Anderson gets credit for creating an alternative universe, but I didn’t want to spend ten minutes there. Had I been with a younger child, I would have walked out. And I write this as a fan of both Wes Anderson, and Roald Dahl. Unfortunately, with the major cast involved, and the hip reputation of Anderson, everyone will rave. And they have. Sad sad sad.

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  14. What an awful review. It sounds like you went into this movie determined not to enjoy it simply by virtue of who made the film. The hair was moving and it was distracting, really? You can’t come up with more constructive criticism? It was hardly noticeable. The characters whine… so what? The only reason you didn’t like that is because characters have whined in other Anderson films as well. This is a nit-picky and pre-conceived review. Nice cheap shot at Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson too. Instead of commenting on their characters or their voices in the film, you just insult their careers. and take a stab at Anderson as well. Nice work.

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  15. I liked the moving hair and was fascinated by the sets. Check out the short “making of..” video about this film on YouTube. Very cool stuff.

    Reply

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