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  Fantastic Mr. Fox Fur Fox Ache
Year: 2009
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Chase Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker, Wes Anderson, Karen Duffy, Robin Hurlstone, Helen McCrory, Brian Cox, Adrien Brody
Genre: Comedy, Animated, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two years ago, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) was a criminal type, allowing his animal instincts to get the better of his aspiration to civilised behaviour, so would be quite happy to steal chickens from the local farm for his livelihood. Latterly, he was accompanied by his new wife Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), who had her reservations and wished that he would find respectable employment, so on their final excursion to a poultry farm, when they were trapped under a cage set by the farmer, she admitted something that made her husband pause for thought: she was pregnant. So it is that two years later they have settled down, Mr. Fox writes for a local newspaper, and they have a son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman)...

But Mr. Fox still has that craving for his past, outlaw lifestyle, and that is what provides the impetus for the plot in this, director Wes Anderson's first animated movie. Although the style was different, the themes of his work were very much to the fore, which divided audiences into those who had enjoyed his previous efforts and were delighted by their application to a family friendly movie, and those who thought he had unwisely bolted on his concerns to a story that didn't really match with it. That story was taken from the Roald Dahl novel, and Anderson was an ardent fan of his books, so if nothing else his version was respectful.

But those naysayers had a point, as if what we were seeing was not the Dahl plot, but that narrative as seen through the eyes of Anderson and his world. Imagine the pictures in the mind's eye of the young director as he read the book as a child, and you have some idea of what this film appears to be, with the result that it takes place in a weirdly Americanised English countryside, where the human beings speak with British accents but the animals have voices and patterns of speech straight out of the United States. In addition, there's a strange take on what that English countryside features, with foxes, badgers and rabbits mixing with opossums, beavers and even a wolf.

And how many English villages have a sushi bar on their high streets, for that matter? This means if you're wishing for the specific flavour of Dahl's writing, it's likely you'll be disappointed because here it's like an American conglomerate mounting a takeover bid on a British institution, and knocking off the edges particular to that side of the Pond, substituting a curious Transatlantic tone that nevertheless feels as if the national essence of the source had been swamped by everything from slang to family psychology. The makeup of Mr. Fox's clan is very much in the Anderson style, with Ash feeling neglected when his brighter, more accomplished cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) arrives to stay. No, Kristofferson isn't a very Dahl name either.

Therefore you have Mr. Fox as less the doting father as he should be, and more the distant, wrapped up in his schemes dad that Anderson paints him as. He plans to steal from three local farms to get chickens, geese and cider from them, which irresponsibility leads to everyone he knows falling under threat of death from the farmers involved as they mount their revenge tactics. If there's one aspect that the filmmakers got right it's the autumnal appearance to the visuals, coloured in golds, oranges and rustic browns, but that simply underlines how out of place the dialogue and vocal performances sound. Fantastic Mr. Fox is an off-kilter patchwork where the writers, Anderson and Noah Baumbach, have allowed their obsessions to cloud over what doesn't fit to their specifications, which is a shame because it has obviously been approached with love and care. It's just awkward. Music by Alexandre Desplat.

[This is released on Blu-ray as part of The Criterion Collection with the following special features:

Digital master, approved by director Wes Anderson, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Audio commentary featuring Anderson
Storyboard animatic for the entire film
Footage of the actors voicing their characters, puppet construction, stop-motion setups, and the recording of the score
Interviews with cast and crew
Puppet animation tests
Photo gallery of puppets, props, and sets
Animated awards acceptance speeches
Audio recording of author Roald Dahl reading the book on which the film is based
Fantastic Mr. Dahl, an hour-long 2005 documentary about the author
Gallery of Dahl's original manuscripts
Discussion and analysis of the film
Stop-motion Sony robot commercial by Anderson
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by critic Erica Wagner and (Blu-ray only) a 2002 article on Dahl's Gipsy House by Anderson; White Cape, a comic book used as a prop in the film; and drawings, original paintings, and other ephemera.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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