Saturday, November 28, 2009

9 Reasons Why Fantastic Mr. Fox is the Coolest Film

1) FMF shows how sly indie smarts can defy the corporate factory farm machine.

2) The film suggests there is a subversive affinity between artists and thieves. Somewhat like Godard and Truffaut in their youth, Mr. Fox is a chicken thief who has difficulty kicking the habit. Anderson inspires us by ripping off what inspires him, including allusions to Toy Story (a character trapped in a milk crate), The Third Man (the sewer sequence), The Man in the White Suit (Bean has an apple cider machine that makes the same noise that Alec Guinness'character's invention makes), Bonnie and Clyde (men with guns hiding in the bushes for an ambush), and West Side Story (Rat (Willem Dafoe) snaps his fingers in a way reminiscent of the movie's choreography).

3) FMF juxtaposes the passionate instincts of the wild with Anderson's trademark cerebral creative control. Fox cannot help himself because of his wild nature. Late in the film, a wolf appears in the distance. Anderson keeps the wolf in an extreme long shot, and even though the wolf shares with Fox a paw pump of solidarity, the wildest creature stays aloof, separate, and by implication superior to the rest of the animals who have to find ways to accommodate humanity.

4) In every shot, FMF celebrates the detail. Mr. Fox has an impeccable fashion sense--thin ties and corduroy suits. Wes Anderson took photographs of all of the furniture in Roald Dahl's house, had miniature versions made, and scattered them throughout the movie. I found FMF annoying in its way, because so many ingenious details and inventive shot compositions demand a re-viewing. One feels obliged to play the film slowly on DVD and freeze-frame scenes to catch everything.

5) I'm not sure, but it seems that The Darjeeling Limited becomes part of a train set in FMF that consoles Kristofferson when he is blue.

6) FMF treats the difficulties of parenting and sibling self-esteem issues without being annoying.

7) FMF shares with Watership Down a concern with the way humans violate the land for petty reasons.

8) FMF celebrates the moment. Anderson makes sure to add some unexpected flourish to every scene. Even in the midst of an action scene, he will pause to show how Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox's dim but loyal possum sidekick, did have "blueberries" written on his paw, even though he forgot to bring them. We also learn, again in the midst of an exciting sequence, that Kylie's good about paying off his debts, thereby earning a nice credit card. After the rat dies, the gang has a poignant moment, thinking that the rat did redeem himself, but then Mr. Fox says with metaphysical aplomb, "At the end of the day, he's still just a dead rat in a garbage pail behind a Chinese restaurant."

9) Sly, conniving, resourceful, devious--what creature is cooler than a fox? Just as Mr. Fox and his gang elude the evil farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, so does Fantastic Mr. Fox eludes the viewer's attempt to apprehend it. I've never seen such an intellectually engrossing children's movie.

18 comments:

Craig said...

I liked "Fantastic Mr. Fox" a lot too, and you capture its qualities very well. I was concerned when I first heard about this movie a year or so back, that it would do for him what motion-capture has done for Zemeckis (in my view, not much) but it's completely and truly a Wes Anderson movie in the best possible sense. Oh, and I loved that wolf scene as well -- goofy yet inexplicably moving.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Craig. I also like the way so many cranky film bloggers bashed the first trailer of this film, and yet it turned out to be excellent.

I thought of a 10th reason: FRF includes the spiral and crossed-out eye effects (when characters act weird or pass out) of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, another classic of stop-motion animation, not to mention several Burl Ives songs.

Tracey said...

I adored this film, too, and I hope I'm not opening myself up to too much criticism here, but I thought the only place where it really dropped the ball was in its portrayal of female characters as housewives and love interests. It's a shame that Agnes was used only as a source of tension and conflict between Ash and Kristofferson, even though it seemed like she could have been a really cool character, and I really could have done without the scenes where Mrs. Fox is cooking, vacuuming, and serving and cleaning up after Mr. Fox. I think Anderson severely underused Meryl Streep.

FilmDr said...

Good points, Tracey. I skimmed through the book yesterday, and I was surprised to learn that the original Mrs. Fox supported Mr. Fox in his chicken stealing. It was the family's sole source of income. So Anderson's decision to make Mrs. Fox the major taming influence on her husband, and the major source of his guilt, kind of suspect, especially in a movie that celebrates the wild. As in Huckleberry Finn, women in FRF often seem to embody the constraints of civilization.

Craig said...

You're quite right, Tracey (and not only about this film but frankly a few of Anderson's works). Still, I did love the running gag of Mrs. Fox's paintings - always beautiful countrysides with encroaching storms. And although the dynamic between Mr. and Mrs. Fox is different in the film than it is in the novel, as Film Doc points out, it does lead to gorgeous scenes like their talk in the mineral deposit or another behind the waterfall.

Jake said...

I'm very much skimming past this post as I can't go see this until tomorrow, but of course the title of the post leads me to believe you enjoyed it. I'm far from the world's biggest Wes Anderson fan, but I think this movie is an example of a sort of anti-hype, in which I initially viewed trailer the skepticism and disinterest, only for it to steadily grow on me (as opposed to hype-heavy trailers for stuff like Watchmen starting beautifully then wearing then and ultimately revealing in retrospect exactly what I didn't like about the movie) until I spent most of my Thanksgiving break hunting for an opportunity to watch it and being sadly denied. Maybe a wild change of look, if not style, will remind me why I dig Anderson's flair.

Sam Juliano said...

And I love WATERSHIP DOWN too! Well, Film Dr., you've certainly identified so many reasons here is your signature form of why this is a "cool" film and I quite agree, having given it 4/5 two weeks back. I felt it lost it's footing later on, but by and large it captures teh sardonic wit and satire of children literature's craftiest writer, one who I can say had quite an effect on me growing up.

This is absolutely the second best animated film this year behind UP, but I am not sure if you liked that Pixar or not.

FilmDr said...

Craig,

Thanks for further answering Tracey's point about Mrs. Fox. I brought up with my significant other the idea that Mrs. Fox may embody the constraints of civilization, and she said "What's wrong with that? Mr. Fox needs to grow up sometime."

Thanks, Jake. I confess I usually enjoy Anderson's films except for The Royal Tenenbaums. Rushmore is still my favorite.

Thanks, Sam. I agree that Roald Dahl is one of the best children's writers, in part due to his playfully vicious imagination.

I had problems with Up mostly because of the extreme praise the film received. I like to think that Fantastic Mr. Fox and Coraline will tie as the year's best animated film at the Oscars.

Larry said...

Talking Fox? Willem Dafoe?..oh I'm sorry I thought this was a review for "Antichrist". Nah! Just Kidding. But I thought Willem's Rat was hilarious, and probably my favorite character. Totally erases the horror that was Antichrist.

Actually, I'm a Wes Anderson virgin. Not really, I've seen Darjeeling a couple of times but never manage to finish it, and I was Richie Tannenbaum, Halloween '05, after my girlfriend picked it up for me (she was Margot). Lamest costume ever. Nobody gets it. Everyone thought I was a hippie John Mc Enroe. I've sworn to hate Wes Anderson for the rest of my life. The closest thing that I know of Wes' aesthetic was that McCain ad, which spoofs his cinematic style (figured that out on the Youtube commentaries). So I'm a virgin and a half (wut?). But I liked FMF anyway.
As in any auteur driven film, one is obligated to know the style or motifs of the director, but in FMF's case, it is not necessary to know Anderson's previous works to enjoy the film. With those points you laid out, Film Doc, I now want to check out Wes' other works. Or maybe just finish Darjeeling. Those mini surprises makes me like the film even more. Like I lol'd at Jarvis Crocker's cameo even without knowing who he was. Turns out he was a songwriting hero in his native Britain.
Btw, I still don't get the wolf scene.

Jason Bellamy said...

I just got finished leaving a comment to the same effect at Craig's review of the film, but I didn't feel this one. I think Anderson's films work best when our understanding begins with the paper-doll outfits and finds deeper meaning in the performances of the actors within those uniforms. Alas, looking into the eyes of Mr. Fox, I didn't find depth. I found an action-figure. It's like the difference between looking into the eyes of a live animal and one that's stuffed.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't loath this film. It did charm me here and there. But I was sorry to find myself unemotional about it most of the time. I suspect you're right that there are new details to be cherished on repeated viewings, but this movie doesn't call me to see it again (which doesn't mean I won't end up seeing it again anyway).

Oh, by the way: The helicopter at the end looks exactly like TC's "Island Hoppers" helicopter from Magnum P.I. -- so there's another allusion.

Jake said...

OK, having seen the film, thought about it and written my review, I can now look over this thing. I think I'm in between you and Jason, though much closer to your view. I thought it was brilliant that Anderson, maybe the most meticulous contemporary American director decided to dabble in the most arduous and time-consuming of animation styles, and I was also taken by how, where so many R-rated filmmakers and actors soften into plush for kids fare, Anderson slyly ported over everything about himself that was endearing and sort of circled the idea of children's film menacingly until the only flag it raised was a white one. I'm positive that he wrote the script exactly how he would have written it for adults and just went back in and censored himself.

I agree with Tracey, though, that the women were given sweet F.A. to do, and I also didn't understand why all the animals were voiced by Americans and all the humans by British.

And I can see where Jason is coming from, but I got more out of these characters than I did anyone in Life Aquatic or Darjeeling. FMF has all the typical themes of an Anderson film -- chiefly a dysfunctional family that ultimately proves it love -- and I was surprised at how much I connected with the characters in all their post-ironic coolness.

This has been a weird, fascinating year for cinema ostensibly aimed at children.

FilmDr said...

Very funny, Larry. I highly recommend Rushmore, although I'm still amazed how fully realized Anderson's technique was with his first film Bottle Rocket. Also, you might want to check out the recent Richard Brody profile on Anderson in the early November New Yorker (not available on the web yet, I don't think) as perhaps one of the better written summaries of his career.

Thanks, Jason, for the other allusion. I wonder if the motorcycle and the side car could be a subtle reference to Duck Soup, and doubtless there are dozens of others. Otherwise, I know what it is like to not have the same gut response to a film. Weirdly, I had to deal with two screaming brats in the back of the theater distracting me at times, while watching FRF, and even that failed to diminish my pleasure in the movie. Perhaps the film works because Anderson found a way to not talk down to adults while fashioning a film for kids.

Thanks, Jake. Your comment lines up with what I just wrote. I also liked the film's references to Zen meditation. Even David Lynch would approve. Yet, there's something basically subversive about FRF. As Fox revolts against the three B's, he defies the man with elan.

Tracey said...

I've really enjoyed following this conversation, and I'm happy not to be called names and dismissed for saying something about female representation like I often am on film sites like SlashFilm. I just can't help but notice that stuff.

Anyway, as a side note, it seems completely appropriate to me for Wes Anderson to be doing animation. Did anyone ever see this great Bill Melendez documentary clip on YouTube that mentions the Peanuts cartoon director's influence on Anderson? It puts scenes from Rushmore side by side with Peanuts clips. So cool. Check it out here:

http://www.cartoonbrew.com/animators/a-little-love-the-art-of-bill-melendez.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CartoonBrew+(Cartoon+Brew)&utm_content=Google+Reader

Tracey said...

I meant to mention that the scene at the end where all of the animals are dancing felt to me like a Peanuts reference.

FilmDr said...

Tracey,

No, I hadn't seen that documentary about Melendez. I was very impressed with it. Thanks for calling it to my attention.

Anonymous said...

sorry gang.but does anybody know what kind of influnce mrs fox might have for her paintings?i really her painting.

Information Review said...

Good review
This is one of the best movies of last year. The dialogue and characterizations are wonderful. It is perfectly cast and the stop motion and music track are amazing.

Anonymous said...

I just saw FMF and the credit card seemed to be a reference to Up In the air.