Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox is exactly as advertised: fantastic! Never before has this level and ingenuity of animation been seen by cinema audiences, and Anderson’s exceptional directing talent brings a fresh and innovative style to the classic children’s tale, making it accessible to viewers young and old.
Roald Dahl is, undoubtedly, one of the most loved and respected children’s authors of the past century. His astounding collection of works ranges from such favourites as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to autobiographical novels such as Boy: Tales of Childhood. Dahl is infamous in the world of infant literature, but with Fantastic Mr Fox, Anderson proves that this legendary author can touch the hearts and entertain adults, as well as children.
Anderson’s vision for Fantastic Mr Fox involved a painstaking animation process called Stop-Motion, which has been made famous and brought into the mainstream by Tim Burton in his films The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. Here, however, Anderson takes Stop-Motion to a whole new level, creating a sense of movement and fluidity never before rendered on film, with a collection of characters who display a variety of styles of mobility that thoroughly befit each individual personality and animal variety. Each character has his own style of action and gesture, creating an unparalleled array of animation techniques and triumphs.
The animation also ranges in style, as Anderson incorporates illustration as well as stop motion: the illustration includes not only images ‘drawn’ by Mrs Fox, but the general set design, as well as a hilarious depiction of the farmer’s electric fence, in which Mr Fox and his accomplice become black and white images of skeletons as the shock runs through their frames. There are many such memorable scenes, not only for their comic value, but also for the creativity of the animation, such as the high-speed burrowing scenes underground, and the all-singing all-dancing finale.
Aside from the animation, which is flawless, Anderson’s direction is incredible, and combines his iconic style with certain customs inherent to animation. The familiar Anderson creation of mazes and sequences depicting spatial relationships through cross-sections of buildings is integral to a plot which focuses on maps, burrows and houses. The sets are beautifully constructed to portray such infrastructures, and aid the telling of the plot in a way only Anderson can achieve: completely organised in a totally ironic way (see the hilariously confusing map which shows Mr Fox’s plan using hundreds of winding arrows).
The wonderful characters in the movie can be attributed to their original creator, Dahl, and thankfully Anderson has been faithful to the novel. His rendering of such characters on this scale, however, is a stroke of genius, and the contrast of Mr Fox’s gentlemanly demeanour with his true animal instincts never ceases to draw a laugh. This is particularly relevant when witnessing meal times, as George Clooney suavely voices Mr Fox, completely contradicting his bestial, ravenous destruction of his meals. This juxtaposition throughout the film works beautifully, and the other star turns are equally well cast.
Meryl Streep as Mrs Fox is understated yet carries real charisma, whilst Anderson favourites Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, as Ash and Badger respectively are also irreplaceable. Badger and Mr Fox also appear in a great scene together as they discuss business, reverting to their animalistic tendency to growl and roar at one another rather than converse maturely. What is great in this film is that the voices are familiar and brilliantly cast, yet do no detract from what is happening on screen: although we are aware of these stars, their presence remains secondary to the beauty of the mise en scène, and the actors are not playing themselves, but are truly conveying their roles.
Other brilliant cameo voice-overs come from Wallace Wolodarsky as Kylie the Opossum, Owen Wilson as Coach Skip and Michael Gambon as Franklin Bean. Anderson’s own brother Eric Chase Anderson plays the irritatingly perfect Kristofferson Silverfox, whose presence in the family home frustrates little Ash, with his meditation and other hilariously un-fox like hobbies, and again shows Anderson’s preference for his fraternity of favourite actors. In addition to the brilliant voices, the rest of the soundtrack is also excellently produced, with an undeniably catchy song version of Dahl’s limerick Boggis and Bunce and Bean acting as a framing device throughout the film.
Yet again, Anderson delights his fans with a fantastic interpretation of a brilliant tale. Remaining faithful to the story and spirit of Dahls’ original novel, Anderson creates a stunning visual world, with enchanting animation and a plethora of optical delights. The cast is brilliantly assembled, with a great script and wonderful direction, culminating in the flawless rendering of a true classic.