Humanity captured in a fox

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” makes the audience forget it’s a stop-motion film.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on Roald Dahls childrens book of the same name.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same name.

Jonathan Hudson, Writer

Mr. Fox used to be an adventurer. When he was younger, he made his living stealing chickens. Then he got married, and he had to stop that sort of thing and become a family man –– well, fox, rather. But when the chicken heist of a lifetime can be seen outside his window, can a fox resist? Soon all his family and friends have been dragged into the fun, and the danger, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox must ask himself, is this all really worth it?

First off, the voice acting in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is wonderful. With actors like George Clooney and Meryl Streep, along with a handful of returning Wes Anderson favorites such as Bill Murray, it’s hard to go wrong. Anderson has paid careful attention to each character, delivering complete people that the actors could easily embody.

Even within the parameters of Roald Dahl’s book, writers Anderson and Noah Baumbach have skillfully made “Fantastic Mr. Fox” their own. Recurring themes of sibling rivalry and clashing personalities over a base of sheer adventure are more than enough proof that Anderson had a hand in the making of this film. Like any Anderson film you can find, the conflict never really resolves; it is just folded up and put away like an old shirt.

It is this sort of awkward irresolution that keeps this poignant story a comedy. The relationships in this film have all the features of a tragedy, yet you cannot help but smile as you watch these acquaintances interact. As he always does, Anderson finds a chord that resonates deeply with anyone who has ever experienced family drama (that is, every human on the face of the earth). For all his unique narratives and atypical camerawork, this guttural expression of family is most certainly Anderson’s strongest card.

Walking into the film, one of my most troubling fears was concerning the new medium. Anderson is a live-action director, and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is his first dive into animation of any sort. Any number of things can go wrong in these situations, but a lack of human subtlety simply would have been his undoing.

Watch any Anderson film and you will be faced with complete human beings living in very harsh realities with very real problems. An actor brings great depth to this sort of character, not just by his reading of lines, but by the sway of his walk, the position of his fingers, even the twitch of his eyebrow. In stop-motion, these sorts of details are all but abandoned for broad, theatrical gestures, simply because the tiny fluctuations in an actor’s face are impractical to imitate. Take, for example, the hilarious yet terribly simplistic motions of Wallace and Gromit.

If Anderson merely wanted to tell a cute story, this would be fine, but Anderson makes films that must connect at a deep human level, and a Wallace and Gromit application of stop-motion would kill that connection.

Amazingly, Anderson prevails. Although he messes with miniature sets and characters, he captures the oddities of each character so well that the viewer forgets that they are watching stop-motion animation. The light, trivial story of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is weighed down with the dark humanness of its characters in a perfect balance that only he can strike.

The only potential deal-breaker for the mass audience may lie in his playful pokes at film aesthetics. Every director has his camera quirks, and Anderson has developed a style around his: quick pans from one scene to the next and dead-on symmetry in the frame are a couple of his favorites. For this film, the most obvious slap-in-the-face of camera convention are the face-to-face close-up shots, where Anderson places both characters in the center of the frame looking slightly down, as if they are looking out into the audience instead of into the other’s eyes. This jarring effect can draw the unsuspecting audience member out of the drama. However, fans of Anderson’s work and anyone with knowledge of film etiquette will engage with, and even enjoy, these interesting directorial choices.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is truly a fantastic film. Anderson has tried his hand at something new, and it seems to suit him fine. He has once again taken a marvelous story, filled it with engaging actors and shot it in a compelling way. This is a director whose bravery is unequaled only by his supreme talent, a very scary combination for the rest of Hollywood. Find a theatre playing this movie and make some time to go watch it. I insist.

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