Monday, March 29, 2010

Thoughts I Had While Watching... Fantastic Mr Fox

I'm going to be experimenting for a short while with having readers pick which DVD we cover here. Which new release I blog about will be up to you but how it's blogged we'll let my schedule decide. My schedule is an unkind mistress. She's very disorganized and thinks that there's 38 hours to each day and 8 days in a week. She also thinks blogging and sleeping are both wastes of time, inks in lots for staring off into space time, and has lately even been forcing me to only write inbetween actual money-making jobs. What's her problem, anyway?

Where were we? Last week you chose Fantastic Mr Fox so here we are.


First thing I notice my third time through from the ungodly hour of midnight till 1:27 AM, is that when it starts I'm instantly in a good mood. Is it the banjos? I don't know from musical instruments. Maybe it's the warm color palette or the feeling that I'm staring at an intricately designed diorama that I know people fussed over with their own hands (I love stop motion).

Are you fussing with me? The fuss you are.

I credit this insta-mood booster with my giddy delight that the movie does all sorts of things that are traditional, classic or expected (the "one last job" plot, holding up a storybook cover to begin an animated film, reflecting Wes Anderson's favored eccentric gifted family stories) and they feel totally fresh to my heart even though my brain says "excessively familiar!"

The portrait of a Foxy marriage is really compelling stuff, despite it happening in very tiny increments with screwball fast banter
If what I think is happening, is happening. It better not be.
Of course it helps that talented actors are doing the voice work for roles to which they're well suited. Meryl Streep is so familiar and beloved that she can perfectly sell warm but formidable domesticity (who wouldn't want to marry and be bossed around by her?) along with the backstory idea that that's not all there is to her... she's lived! The town tart line is especially funny given Meryl’s recent forays into risqué humor. To quote It’s Complicated “Turns out, I’m a bit of a slut.” For his part George Clooney harnesses his mega-charm for a role that's all about how far charm can take you but what price people and their loved ones sometimes pay for that gift. While I don’t normally condone the animated film’s reliance on “names” as voice cast, it’s actually helpful in this one case. Part of the humor and pathos here is that the animals are ultra aware of whether or not their behavior is fitting in with what's expected of their species and we in turn are ultra aware that they're standing in for humans. This adds an extra meta layer to the laughs that come from both the mandatory anthropomorphics of the genre and the regressions into pure animalistic behavior. The recurring joke of the foxes eating like wild animals is hilarious each and every time. Especially because it always happen so quickly and is ignored by the characters once it has. They even pick up the dishes after their feeding frenzy! I don’t even always do that and…. I am animal.

The best thing about the movie might be how excessively quotable! it is. "I don't know what you're talking about but it sounds illegal" I sense that the more we watch this, the more we'll crib from its extensive pantry full of laugh lines. I'm 100% certain that movie buffs who are good at sounds and whistles, will adopt Fox's signature send-off as well.

If you try that blueberry trick on me, you could rob me blind. I’d fall for it every time. Mmmmm, blueberries. So yummy. So yummy.

If there's a problem with the movie, I'd venture to say that it's that the villains Boggis, Bunce and Bean aren't as compelling as the animals. And don’t you think that villains should always be angling for "best in show" honors. My mind flashes to Mrs. Tweedy in Chicken Run, another animals vs. humans stop-motion delight and she was just awesome. The BB&B intro is super, though. I love it when movies stop in their tracks to introduce characters in some theatrical way. And I mean that in both the literal and the style sense. Of course sometimes it's no good. That bit inInglourious Basterds when we learn about Sgt Hugo Stiglitz is just so inorganic... there's no parallels in the movie to make it feel like anything other than a whimsical indulgence that would be more fitting and more enjoyable as a DVD extra. But anyway. I do get a little bored towards the end because there’s just so much of BB&B trying again to kill the Foxes.

But then I forgive all the repetition when Mr Fox speaks French to the wolf.

That said, maybe I do prefer this to UP which didn’t hold up as well to return visits. You can say “told ya so” in the comments if you’re petty like that.

I've already told you how much I love the "Whackbat" sequence. The voicework in this movie is just perfect from top to bottom. Owen Wilson is always best within the Andersonverse. Everything about the scene clicks (and whistles): The incredibly fast complicated rules of the game punctuated with a prefaced "it's simple" and a "got it" finish, the elaborate diagram visualized once in blue print and once in “reality”, and that little bunny changing the scoreboard is love. The cherry on top of the scene is the painful punchline.
Coach Skip: He really is your father's nephew, isn't he?
Ash: Not by blood.
Little Ash = Jason Schwartzman’s best work ever? Discuss.

I find it so hard to pick a favorite character (another sign of an extensively loveable movie) but if you trapped me in a hole and forced me to choose I might go with the dazed and timid possum, Wally Wolodarksy. Is he the one that says "apple juice…apple juice flood" because that kills me. Funniest moment of the movie?! It was late when that scene hit last night and I can't be blamed for mixing up the mangy animal puppets when drunk on apple cider and sleep deprivation.

Do you think Mr Fox is Fantastic? And if so how come and which parts? I feel I've barely scratched the surface. I didn't even get to the part about how Wes Anderson keeps proving to Hollywood that Willem Dafoe (as the rat) should be a comedy star and Hollywood keeps ignoring it... Or what I think about the camera work (brill) or the music.


Matthew Dinda said...

I also just revisited this film this weekend with a bunch of friends who haven't seen it and it is such a rewarding experience. I found things I'd missed, loved the things I loved the first time, and my friends absolutely adored it. Wally is also my favorite character, and when his eyes go blank I cannot stop laughing.

Burning Reels said...

Ahhh, i need to own this baby.

I agree Nathaniel, it is such a feel good film - the kind you need plenty of on those cosy rainy evenings.

It's a close call - I did enjoy Schwartzmann's work in Rushmore and Huckabees (and to a lesser extent Darjeeling). I still struggle to compare voice performances to physical ones - same as I struggle to compare documentaries to non-documentaries.

What other stories would suit a Wes Anderson animated treatment?

Glenn said...

it most definitely is fantastic. definitely in my top 5 of 2009. Such a great movie that one.

Jason Schwartzmann gave my favourite supporting male performance of last year, too, after Christoph Waltz. He's so wonderful. gah! everything about this movie is wonderful.

Unknown said...

I saw this on an airplane last week, and what a treat it was!

I vaguely remember the book as a kid, and was totally bowled over by the flick.

THe movement, the music, the characters, the actor's voicework especially George Clooney who I thought was amazing --- this is a warm funny insightful film that I loved!

Unknown said...

This was my favorite move of 2009, and it also skyrocketed to the top of my Wes Anderson faves list! I absolutely love everything about it, but the scene that I always come back to in my mind is when Fox and his wide are talking in front of the underground waterfal (most beautiful single shot in te film?!?!) and she says "I love you, Foxy. But I shouldn't have married you." It gets me every time! As for funniest scene, I love the exchange: Mrs. Fox "They'll murder the children!" Mr. Fox "Over my dead body!" Mrs. Fox "That's what I mean. You'd be dead too in that scenario."

Unknown said...

***Fox and his *wife

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I love stop-motion. I feel like that's the animated medium that truly begs for you to look at what's going on. Maybe it's because it's more difficult to be frenetic and everything has to be so meticulous, but I notice that in most stop-motion films, you really have to look at every prop and set decoration. That's always my favorite part, going back and seeing the beauty and exactness of the work. This movie really delivers on it.

Oh, and: Told ya so ;)

Wade said...

Favorite part: Fox listing the other animals Latin names and skills, and then coming to Badger, who claims to be a demolitions expert. "Demolitions expert, since when?"

Lucky said...

Little Ash = Jason Schwartzman’s best work ever?


I loved this movie, but I found it kind of flawed. I don't remember many examples, but one that comes to mind is when, towards the end, Foxy is asking the animals about their talents to create the plan, and there are several animals that remain underused. That scene felt a little pointless after I finished watching the movie.

But it was great anyways, the characters, the sense of humor, the music... and that "...It better not be" line delivered by Meryl Streep: a treat.

Ryan T. said...

Well I thought this should've been nominated and won the Oscar for Best Costume. But it's not a period British flick. So no cigar.

Laura said...

If only you could throw Fantastic Mr. Fox in as a bonus to that Broken Embraces giveaway!

Kurtis O said...

"If what I think is happening, is happening. It better not be."

Might just be my favorite line from 2009.

Anonymous said...

i LOVE that bit in inglourious basterds!

Timothy Marshall said...

Fantastic Mr. Fox is very good, but I have some trouble with it's flaws and since Nat did a great job covering the things I loved about it, here are the things I had some hangups about on repeat viewings:

1) The humor is simplistic and flashy to the point of being shallow in some cases. In particular, the film seems to portend early on that it's going to be smart and possibly existential and interesting, but that only extends as far as the most basic of human relationship dynamics. The self-awareness the movie carries about anthropomorphizing its characters actually bothers me. We don't need to be reminded that they're walking talking foxes. This isn't an unusual thing within the universe of animated celluloid, yet it seems Wes Anderson lingers on these notions for too long, directly giving one for one comparisons at length between human behaviors and animal behaviors. It's funny, sure, but in a very one-note kind of way: humor pulled from a concept instead of from the narrative.

2) The Petey song is annoying and a drag on the rest of the film (though Bean's punchline is hilarious: "Well, that's just sloppy songwriting!") I think it was just an excuse to include Jarvis Cocker in the film. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Pulp, but I don't like it in the movie.

3) The repetitive plot structure is tedious and predictable. I can only watch them get in trouble and then dig deeper so many times. Plus, once the film is over, I'm left confounded as to why BB&B don't go down and kill all the animals or come up with another plot. They're just waiting over the manhole for Mr. Fox to come out? This seems contrary to reason. I know this is directed at kids, but c'mon; kids aren't stupid.

4) I particularly disliked the stupid action sequence where Ash does the Whackbat thing and releases the dogs on BB&B (punctuating it by literally yelling, "Hotbox!"). It just felt way stupider than the rest of the movie.

5) This is more of a music-lover's criticism, but the soundtrack felt like a parody of Wes Anderson soundtracks/scores (Desplat in particular maybe doing his best Mark Mothersbaugh?). I love his choices, usually, but this time it felt far too obvious. "Heroes and Villains" is my favorite Beach Boys song, but hasn't he used the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" in like a bunch of movies now? I think my favorite Anderson scoring move was the mix of Zombies and Seu Jorge Bowie covers in The Life Aquatic. Absolutely genius.

6) Pretty much everything from the cider-flood on just annoys me. I don't like the non-sensical fight with the rabid beagle, I don't like the final fight scene with the rat, I don't like the shootout scene with Ash's whackbat thing. I don't even like the wolf thing. The dance in the supermarket scene is pretty good though.

So, yeah, sort of a roller-coaster of a movie for me. Lots of stuff I love and lots of stuff that bothered me all wrapped up in one; amazing highs and irritating lows. How I rank my Wes Anderson films:

1) Rushmore
2) The Royal Tenenbaums
3) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (better than almost everyone remembers)
4) The Darjeeling Limited
5) Fantastic Mr. Fox
6) Bottle Rocket

Timothy Marshall said...

Oh, I should also add that I'm not fond of SDA (Stupid Disney Action) in any movie, including Up. (I pretty much lost my temper when the dogs were flying airplanes. The collar thing was good because it made sense. The airplanes? Fuck you. Granted, I know I'm going to get a lot of shit for criticizing that in a movie where a man flies his balloon house to South America, but... you know what I'm getting at here.)

I loved Up, but have the same problem to an extent. Why do animated movies have to resort to non-sensical, quickly edited action in order to entertain their target audience? Do they really have that little faith that kids (or adults) can enjoy tense sequences without brainless physicality and 1.2 second shots? The only movie where the utilization of this has made sense to me is in Wall-E because of the whole "nature of robots/future" thing. Fantastic Mr. Fox only dabbles in it, but to the detriment of the movie. It seems out of place.


Timothy... some of those things bother me too which is why most of my "yays" are from the first 45 minutes. But i was accentuating the positive.

the airplane scene in UP spoiled its brilliance for me too. lowering it from the levels of ratatouille or wall-e or the incredibles for me.

but since you ranked the andersons, i must.

1) The Royal Tenenbaums

very strong
2) Fantastic Mr Fox

good but i don't quite get why people think it's "great"
3) Rushmore

they have their moments
4) The Darjeeling Limited (but I *love* "Hotel Chevalier")
5) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (too affected for me. and I can deal with a LOT of affect)

but i basically *like* all of them. I haven't seen Bottle Rocket.

Janice said...

Nathaniel, I'm with you in the "good but I don't get why people think Rushmore is "great" " crowd. There's nothing going on that I haven't seen before, a million times or more (the dueling egos of two men? Battling for the affection of a woman who is nothing in and of herself but what she represents to said men? Been there, done that, a thousand times. And for the bi-generational battle of egos, try "Charlie Barlett" with a very good RDJ, instead.) And the whole thing about Anderson's style - it reminds me of the Toyota, etc commercials I grew up watching on tv in the '70's and '80's.

As far as Anderson, I preferred The Royal Tennenbaums, and I actually do have affection for Darjeeling Limited. It's race/ethnicity politics are once again problematic in the same way as Luhrmann's "Australia", "Avatar", "Dances with Wolves" etc etc etc etc (how many movies posit an exotic locale/culture as the easy cure to all the White Man's existential blues?), but the performances by Wilson, Brody and Schwartzmann as the embattled brothers stayed with me (the part where Brody smiles, for the first time in the film, at his brothers on the train near the end still haunts me) and yes, the "Hotel Chevalier" section at the start with Portman was something close to strangely brilliant.

Come to think of it, the "Hotel Chevalier" may well be my favorite bit of Anderson, full stop. But maybe that's just because of Portman.

Anonymous said...

love love LOVE this movie.

esp. love the trans-species salute with the wolf..

Cory Rivard said...

My favorite part is the "Beegle Ticks/Pelt Lice" argument between Ash and Kristofferson.
I also love the use of the song "Love" from Disney's Robin Hood as a nice little hello from one fox movie to another.
This movie sat comfortably in my top 5 of last year.

Cory Rivard said...

OH! And I would definitely put the wolf scene in the top few best scenes of the decade.

OtherRobert said...

This was definitely the second best stop motion film of 2009 behind Coraline, of course.

Very enjoyable and beautifully made.

Flosh said...

love this movie. my favorite line is bean's, to petey, after petey's song: "You wrote a BAD SONG, Petey. a VERY bad song."

also, if i didn't have some sense of self preservation i would probably punctuate a lot more of my sentences with snaps.

finally, i agree with many of the criticisms and yet don't really care. the movie takes me to a happy place in a way that no movie has in years.

Dorian said...

This is what should have been nodded in best picture and won animated film. Love "Fantastic Mr. Fox"!

Jordan Ruimy said...

I agree. such a great movie and -yes yes yes- better than Pixar's Up

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Andrea said...

I just saw Fantastic Mr. Fox last night. I thought the last hour was kind of relentless with the BB&B hunting and it was a lot grimmer than I thought it would be, but it was, so, wonderful. My favorite scene in the movie was when a remorseful Ash played his train set for Kristofferson after making him cry. Afterwards I knew that I would be a lifelong fan of this movie just for that scene alone.