Robots In Disguise
by ALEX CARNEVALE
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
dir. Wes Anderson
It never occurred to me that someone would want to adapt Roald Dahl's hateful children's classic The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Wes Anderson for whatever reason felt the need. He rewrote it with Noah Baumbauch to become more generically like the rest of his films, which was a fine idea from anyone's point of view.
Wes Anderson and Baumbauch are able to write two kinds of jokes. Both are generally funny, although they are hitting at levels down from previous years. This is probably due to our slow economy and cannot be blamed on either of the writers.
The first kind of joke involves adding slightly more information than is necessary. The excess amount of speech creates the humor, because the speaker is extending the nominal goodwill of his compatriots. An example of this kind of joke in The Fantastic Mr. Fox occurs when Mr. Fox begins to plot out his mischief. He repeatedly references the fact that he is recording his own speech on the subject to his opossum colleague. The comedy proceeds largely out of the unexpectedness of the comment and its placement in the scene.
Woody Allen is generally acknowledged to to have invented this kind of joke, although others argue that he stole it from Neil Patrick Harris by using Julie Kavner's vagna as a time warp.
The second kind of Wes and Noah joke revolves around some physical or emotional tic and the ensuing reaction. Although some people believe this variety of humor is unrealistic because it ignores the previous knowledge familiars should have with each other, a movie is perfect for this because the audience itself is genuinely unfamiliar. I mean, some people still don't understand The Sixth Sense or Godard's Week End.
In Rushmore, Anderson's second feature, these elements were blended into a swarthy protagonist and an incredibly new feeling aesthetic. In The Darjeeling Limited, these elements were largely included as a means for disrobing Natalie Portman and making the horrifying task of viewing Adrien Brody act more palatable.
Although Wes is an incredible master of production design, making a stop-motion animated feature would seem to strand him impossibly out of his depth. Then again, the guy prefers to be photographed with Marc Jacobs whenever possible, it is best not to underestimate this sort of person not matter how many retarded profiles of he and his assistant one is forced to consume.
Wes seemed to determine to tighten his occasionally florid directing style here, and except for the inevitable drag of trying to extend a short book into a feature, he does a nice job. At a budget of only $30 million, the film is a bargain, and although he had to abandon his collaboration with Henry Selick, the visuals of The Fantastic Mr. Fox (from the team behind the criminally underrated Corpse Bride) are predictably awesome.
His self-effacing yet wildly overconfident Dignan of a protagonist this time is voiced by George Clooney, which is incredibly distracting. (Clooney's about as good a voice actor as he is an actual actor.)
Mr. Fox moves into the base of a tree after consulting with a realtor, but it isn't long before he wishes to relieve the local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean of their chicken, geese, and cider. His battle against three farmers isn't too interesting. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is more about the interplay between his family, highlighted by the tender but contentious relationship between his adopted nephew's wild talents and his son's lack thereof.
Mr. Fox's teeth are insanely creepy, and there's something downright scary about the entire cast of rodents - cute as they can be, at times they seem more likely to cause nightmares in children than to provoke any kind of wonder. This incidentally was the complaint about the Dave Eggers-Spike Jonze adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. On the surface it would be ludicrous and bizarre to make a movie that neither children or adults can enjoy fully, especially since the essential point of the incredibly high grossing Twilight series is the exact opposite. On the other hand, at least it keeps Bill Murray from turning into Hunter S. Thompson.
The poster for the film touts "Dig the Life Fantastic." In the actual film, this credo is disposed of fairly quickly. Perhaps without knowing it, Wes made a film about the degrading nature of poverty. Wisely understanding that films on that subject rarely attract viewers, he tried to make the film as joyful as possible. For the most part, he succeeds. There are moments of utter abandon that are sure to become iconic: the complicated variation of baseball and cricket the foxes play, the battle with a rat voiced by Willem Dafoe, the film's magical wolf scene.
No one makes the kind of movies Wes Anderson makes. He now has more than a coterie of fans who have caught his films on television and go see his movies out of a sense of duty. In The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes has strayed from what was ostensibly a personal sequence of films and applied the genius of his attention to everything: donuts filled with goosemeat, kids reading comic books, radios on their hips.
Such an act is startlingly compulsive, but this again is no surprise. Only after he has made something familiar into something unrecognizable can he find some equivalent of peace.
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