Wednesday, October 14, 2009

LFF: Fox Trot

Dave here, being a professional and giving you a full-length review of the London Film Festival's opening night film. Some animated thing with animals, like we needed another one of those...

Fantastic Mr. Fox
is, from its very first frames to its final, slightly befuddling moments, a film soaked in so much esoteric character it's hard not to be overwhelmed. Director Wes Anderson and author Roald Dahl, as soon as you heard the idea, sounded like such an obvious match... and indeed, they are.

They're not the same, of course, which is something we should be grateful for in light of how Anderson's recent movies have become too self-satisfied in their self-conscious construction and dysfunctional quirk. That's tempered here by Dahl's darker, more vicious impulses. Fox is strongly Andersonian in terms of style -- the square 'mugshot' (as memorably described in the press conference, to Anderson's horror) introduction of characters, the playful, nostalgic musical choices -- but the tone is most definitely a well-balanced cross between the two artists. As such, Anderson's trademark baffling eccentricities only blossom fully at a few points. The plot of Dahl's book had to be expanded to make a full-length feature, but Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach (can you feel the independent quirk now?) generally stay true to Dahl's wickeder offbeat senses. The structure is Dahl's familiar sectional one, although the vague way the chapter titles appear perhaps betrays Anderson's more freewheeling approach. It's a pleasant compromise.

The usual Anderson crew are on board for the voices. Center-ear this time is George Clooney who is more debonair than offbeat, filling the role of a man fox trying to hold onto his reckless youth with the charming, devilish attitude that's become his trademark. Meryl Streep is warm and no-nonsense. But somehow the film really comes alive with the newly invented characters, which make up (as you were surely expecting) one of Anderson's lovably (?) dysfunctional families. Jason Schwartzman's Ash is the actor's familiar character type - a bitter, rueful, oddball outsider - who somehow makes more sense as a child. He stands, small and defiant at the doorway in the background of the screen, spits angrily to no one's notice, but is finally given Anderson's usual heroic moment that uses those weaknesses. His rivalry with cousin Kristofferson (superbly voiced by Erik Chase Anderson) adds a youthful energy to the film that nicely compliments Mr. Fox's devious scheming and the familial drama with his wife.

It's how it looks that will impress you the most about Fantastic Mr. Fox and possibly earn it that slightly presumptuous descriptor. The luminously autumnal photography radiates warmth, ensuring the film never ventures into paleness either in colour or in tone. The rugged personal touch in the stop-motion frequently instills in the audience with the same exuberance in the less polished effects Anderson has repeatedly professed to have. Camera positioning mixes between close, intimate shots and diagrammatic shots of above and below ground, as if the earth has been sheathed in half. This latter choice provides a strong degree of detached, ironic observation to proceedings, and it's perhaps the one choice that Anderson hasn't used previously - although only, you feel, because he couldn't. As the man himself said, the slower pace of producing an animated film is both a hindrance and a help - so much more time to perfect. If he didn't quite succeed, it's not for lack of enthusiasm. B


Anonymous said...

I was surprised with the B grade when I read through it all. Reading it, it seemed like you'd grade it a C or C+. Didn't really seem too happy about it. I don't know, its probably just me.


i always find it interesting how different artistic sensibilities mix or clash... a common point of reference being kubrick and spielberg with AI which always comes up in that discussion.

i have read some of Dahl's stuff but not Mr Fox. Has anyone here read the actual book.

Guy Lodge said...

Nathaniel: It's the loosest of adaptations, wrapping up Dahl's story in about 45 minutes and then going off on its own tangent. And the tone is all Anderson, no Dahl.

edwin sanchez said...

Definitely something to look forward too.!!