Friday, December 4, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is clearly the result of an artist - director Wes Anderson - realizing that he has been spinning his wheels and trying something new. I applaud this, but what's disconcerting is when it actually still manages to be about Daddy Issues. I have to wonder if making movies is just therapy for him - fine, but maybe the poor guy needs to see a real shrink.

You take two categories - Father and Son - and you can separate all of Anderson's protagonists into one or the other (the exception being Chas Tenenbaum, who is both and thus The Royal Tenenbaums' most complex character and the one with his father for a passing of the torch at the moment of his death). His new hero, Mr. Fox, is an egoist (natch) who ends up ruining the lives of not only his family but the families of all the wild animals in his wild animal village.

Fantastic Mr. Fox presents as the substance to its style the arc of Ash Fox, the young son whose pre-natal existence incites Mr. Fox, in a prologue, to give up bird-hunting at the behest of his wife Felicity. Obviously, giving up thrill-seeking to raise a kid isn't going to hold out, and as soon as Ash grows old enough to prove "different" (quotes belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Fox, not me, although I'm not positive Ash is supposed to be necessarily gay, just weird and slightly feminine) he gives up on his family to go try to knock off the three most dangerous and well-guarded farms in the county.

What kills me about the film is not the relationship of Ash and his dad, progressing as it does inevitably from Neglect to Begging for Validation to Failure and then finally Validation. No, what kills me is that, as the story ends "happily" with Fox saving his family from the farmers and telling his son that he loves him, all of the animals in the county have had their homes devastated and destroyed and they are now forced to live in a dystopian sewer system where they will make the best of it and hold a dance-off in a supermarket, because if stealing chickens from a farm wreaked apocalypse on their way of life, a grocery store will obviously prove safe to raid whenever it's closed for the evening.

This is the most Anderson seems able to muster in the pursuit of kids' flick optimism.

I must admit, however, that the animation, which had bothered me and worried me in the trailer, won me over immediately. The movie looks glorious, for which I will credit the animation company and not Anderson, who apparently directed the thing via iPhone. Perhaps if Anderson weren't bored with his own project, the climactic action sequence (which, in the past, Anderson has proved deft at mingling with the pathos of his characters' stories) wouldn't drag the way it does.


  1. It's definitely not a kids' flick, for one thing.

    I LOVED this movie. I don't hold it against Wes Anderson that he revisits the same general theme. I don't think this is like anything he, or anyone else, has done before. You didn't get choked up during some of those conversations between Mr & Mrs?

    While I too reacted snarkily to the Wired article, how different is his process from the director of any animated film? You've got a team of people all working on the project and sending you the results.

  2. We're honing in on, actually, exactly why the vast majority of animated product is terrible. Anderson's MO here is very similar to that of most animation directors, in which a storyboard is provided for lower-paid artists to do the work.

    I should say that I did, for the most part, kind of like the movie, even as it left me unsettled and vaguely pissed off. Even a boring Wes Anderson movie is better than most, but he's made three of those in a row now and frankly I wish he'd direct, say, a HARRY POTTER movie or something. I don't know. I respect that he's doing something new here, but he manages to just spin his wheels again. It's sad.

    And no, I didn't get choked up. Which, if you know me at all, is saying something.