Fantastic Mr. Fox Review
Mr Fox (voice of George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) used to steal chickens, but now they raise their children while Mr Fox concentrates on journalism. However, he is drawn back into his old ways and local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean are out to get him.
Two films is not enough to form a trend, but you can't help noticing two hip indie auteurs seemingly rediscovering their inner child and making film versions of well-known children's books. In the UK we haven't yet seen Spike Jonze's live-action take on Maurice Sendak's beloved picture book Where the Wild Things Are, but now we have Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated version of Roald Dahls' 1970 novel Fantastic Mr. Fox.
There's no doubt that this is a handsome looking film, with the design and Tristan Oliver's photography favouring autumnal yellows and earth tones. A very starry voice cast works well, and there's no issues for me with the animation. At just under 90 minutes, it's economical to say the least. However, I do have misgivings about Fantastic Mr. Fox and the reasons why are inherent in that deliberately-chosen word auteur.
Dahl's work has proven film-worthy before. He was a writer who quite understood that a degree of darkness is entirely appropriate for children. The films of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (both of them), Matilda and The Witches have captured that to a greater or lesser extent. And let's not forget his adult short stories, which have been a source for Hitchcock and of course the TV series Tales of the Unexpected. And to be fair, that's in this version of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
My issue is that this is more Wes Anderson than Roald Dahl. I'm ambivalent about Anderson to begin with: I liked Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums a lot, but found myself out of patience with The Darjeeling Limited. And it may be a PG-rated animation, but it's absolutely a Wes Anderson film. Over-educated characters (smug to the unsympathetic) speaking some very high-flown dialogue? Check. Sixties pop/rock music on the soundtrack? Check – most notably the Stones's “Street Fighting Man”. Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray in the cast? Check. A penchant for formal front-and-centre shot composition? Check. The only difference is that this is the first Anderson feature since his debut Bottle Rocket not to be shot in Scope. The characters also swear a lot, though in consideration of that PG certificate, they say “cuss” where they would have said “fuck” in Anderson's adult features.
No doubt Anderson's fan base won't have a problem with this and will enjoy the film more than I did. But I do wonder how many children would. This is a film made from a well-known children's novel released for half-term, and however much you like to spin it, children are a clearly intended audience for it. Making good films for children isn't easy, same as writing good children's books isn't either – in many ways it's probably harder. And I'm not convinced it's a good idea to make a film that goes over the heads of much of its likely audience.