Fantastic Mr. Fox is director Wes Anderson’s (The Royal Tenenbaums) first animated film, and also the first stop motion film produced by 20th Century Fox. Having such a prestigious studio and director at the reins may lead one to think that the end result is as fantastic as its name implies (ho ho). Unfortunately this is far from the truth. Despite the odd flash of brilliance, and the occasional flirting with philosophy, the film was a bit of a mess. As a fan of Anderson’s usually kooky output, I knew I had to take this one with a generous pinch of salt, but even I was left a tad bewildered by the time the credits rolled. When the film finished I actually hadn’t reached this conclusion, and was still sitting on the fence regarding my views; but now that I have had the chance to consider every aspect of the film, my initial bewilderment stands.
Before I begin slating the film too heavily, I would like to start on a positive note, and say that the actual animation is as brilliant (or better) as anything any computer could produce. There were some sublime moments, full of colour and little background details that made me sit back in awe. Another part of the film executed particularly well was the voice acting. Despite a surprisingly poor turn by the star, George Clooney, the acting by Meryl Streep as Clooney’s exasperated wife, Jason Schwartzman as their son, and particularly Michael Gambon as baddie Bean definitely stood out. They managed to injected a warmth and a power that was lacking in other parts of the film.
So far, it may sound that the crucial elements are in place for a well made animated movie. Unfortunately the errors made in other aspects of the film soon override any good the film may have. The strongest problem the film has is a failure to identify its audience correctly. The original novel by Roald Dahl was most definitely a children’s book, and every aspect of the film, from the character models to the plot of the movie is kiddie-friendly. When Mr. Fox starts discussing existentialism, I knew for certain that there were aspects of the film children would struggle with. By the time Rat (a rat) refers to Mrs. Fox as a slag (not in so many words), it was the final nail in the coffin. The script is not child friendly, not in terms of being inappropriate, just in terms being completely inaccessible for kids. This wouldn’t be the end of the world, if it wasn’t for the fact that Anderson et al are targeting the kids’ market and even have a McDonald’s merchandise campaign to coincide with the films release.
The other big problem for me is the structure of the movie. A relatively short novel has been stretched to a rather tepid 87 minutes long, and struggles to fill that. The script is spread thin and jumps around at such a random pace that the whole film came off as disjointed and by the time the rather good ending came along, I was still trying to catch up on the previous ten minutes, and nearly missed the final scene.
So there you have it, I am certain that some reviews will rave about Anderson’s ‘vision’, and I have to admit that the visuals are amazing and that was my favourite part of the film. Ultimately though, the film was flawed, and just didn’t work as a complete picture.