Saturday, January 2, 2010

fantastic mr fox

So I hear we have a major fox problem in Australia. I personally have only ever seen one single fox, as it dashed across a road on my way up to the Dandenongs one day about seven years ago. This interaction with a blurry vulpes vulpes means that, for all I know, Fantastic Mr Fox is a documentary and that foxes do actually wear sharp little suits and flowery housedresses. I really hope I never see a fox again so I can cultivate this delusion forever, because I really quite enjoyed it.

Fantastic Mr Fox is a pairing between premier pen-wielder Roald Dahl and directing/writing maestro Wes Anderson (I’m just going to ignore the disappointing Darjeeling Limited here, okay?) Anderson has slipped adorable little animated parts into his movies before, as with the beautiful underwater scene in The Life Aquatic, so it isn’t too strange that he chose to tackle an entirely animated movie. And now I am amazed at how well his directing style—little written asides, meticulous set design, extreme close-ups, pregnant pauses—suits the medium of animation, and I hope he does more of them. The stop-motion work in Fox is gorgeous, with the animals’ fur moving about breezily, their expressions convincing and priceless, and their tears genuinely moving. The humans look just as wonderful as their befurred counterparts, and Britain’s countryside and underground perfectly sculpted. The whole thing looked so good, that as the credits rolled, I had a big stupid smile on my face.

Mr Fox is cockily narrated by George Clooney, who lends his animal counterpart the right amounts of arrogance and charm. His wife Felicity is played sharp-tongued and agreeable by Meryl Streep; his son Ash by pinnacle of floppy hair Jason Schwartzman. It’s a stellar supporting cast, with Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, and Anderson old-boys Owen Wilson and Bill Murray helping the characters come alive without overwhelming them with their own star power. This last point is possibly not an accurate description of Clooney’s Mr Fox, who often smacks of Danny Ocean or similar and whose pipes are so recognisable that it is impossible to see Fox as separate from the actor. Still, if it was notorious actors or no one, Anderson and co. made the right choice in their casting.

As anyone who’s read Dahl’s book will know, the basic story is that the fantastic Mr Fox wants what farmers Boggins, Bunce and Bean have: food. Then we have a battle of wits between Mr Fox—and the family and friends he unwittingly involves in his fight—and the respectively short, fat and lean men who don’t appreciate having their poultry and cider nicked by something that by all rights doesn’t even have opposable thumbs. The film embellishes the book, by making everything to a larger scale; the mens’ farms, the animals’ tunnels, the revenge of the farmers, and then the payback by the angry wildlife. When Mr Fox’s badger pal (also a lawyer) offers his assistance as a demolitions expert in their scheme, you know it’s going to be a bit more Michael Bay than you originally expected. Except with, you know, a plot and character development and stuff.

With the scrapping of a few of the foxes’ literary offspring and the addition of a cinematic cousin, Mr Fox’s son, Ash, gets the opportunity to be suitably emo, upset at the arrival of his tall, talented cousin Kristofferson who trumps him at everything (including the hilariously baffling sport of Whackbat, as explained by Ash’s coach: “Basically, there’s three grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and a player at Whackbat. Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket and the whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the umpire calls hotbox. Finally, you count up however many score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine.”) Mr Fox, who can be a bit of a complete bastard in the father stakes, swoons over Kristofferson and neglects his own son, who, in a shocking revelation, is not well pleased. Kristofferson resists cliché by being fairly affable despite his cousin’s tetchiness, and Ash himself isn’t completely awful either because you do feel genuinely bad for him. Mr Fox is so wrapped up in his own self absorption that it is almost doubtful he will ever realise the needs of those around him.

There’s a few questions raised: do the humans realise that the foxes wear clothes? Why do the dogs in the film not talk? Can humans understand when Mr Fox speaks to them? These aren’t really flaws, because I didn’t really care until I was at home in a thunderstorm trying to think up negative things about the movie so I didn’t sound like I was fawning too much. Alas, I can’t think of much negative at all. Perhaps the bad guys could have a bit more time to develop, though again, I didn’t really mind at the time, as we get enough of lead bully Bean and his overwhelming need for vengeance and—as shown in an audience-pleasing scene with musician Petey, played perfectly by Jarvis Cocker—proper songwriting.

It’s not much of a morality tale; I think the moral could be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, even if it endangers everyone around you, because you’re George Clooney Mr Fox and it’s okay.” But go see it; it’s great fun, and I’m ready to forgive Wes Anderson anything because of it.


  1. I will ignore your poo-headed comment about the Darjeeling Ltd and instead tell you this story:

    As the plane landed in Melbourne after my flight to move here from Radelaide many years ago (OK, three), I noticed a fox on the runway. She ran alongside the plane for a few seconds as we taxied in then looked up directly at my window and, I swear to Bob, WAVED at me then ran off into the long grass.

    That was the first and last time I accepted the dried fruit and nut snack on a Qantas flight.

  2. Poo-headed? Well I never. My opinions are always the correct ones, didn't you know?

    Plus I'm not the one who says she bonded with a fox upon her arrival to Awesomeville.

    (I'm just jealous. Did you consider it a good omen? Or a bad omen about the drinking water in Melbourne?)

  3. Definitely good. At that moment I believed all of Melbourne must be some mystical fairy land with talking creatures and candy houses that residents of Australia's "other cities" can not access until they take the inevitable plunge and move here.

    Of course the candy houses turned out to be a myth but the champagne toilet water more than makes up for that.


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