Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

For most of the way through the latest Wes Anderson picture, I was having thoughts similar to the ones had while watching the latest Coen Brothers picture (A Serious Man) - which thoughts were that I was watching a really good movie, but that I didn’t really like it all that much. I liked the Anderson more than the Coens, though - but it did not knock me down, and I also don’t know that it’s a Top Ten movie as we get toward the end of the year. I don’t have any real complaints with the film, nothing I saw or heard that I thought was done poorly; but the movie, as a whole, lacked something that would have made me connect with it in a more emotional way. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what that was that it was lacking - but it’s possible that I might figure it out while I’m writing about it, so let’s see what I have to say at the end of this little thing, eh?

And even though I’m not sure about how much I liked it, I do know for sure that it’s really, really good. Wes Anderson - who, along with Noah Baumbach, adapted the book by Roald Dahl - is pretty much a genius when it comes to dialogue, or at least when it comes to getting his actors (or in this case, his voice talent) to mutter dialogue in an offhand sort of way. This usually translates into an intelligent, stifled malaise that makes his characters sympathetic in a cold, clammy way; but it works differently with stop-motion foxes and badgers (and a few people, too), who glitter with an odd vitality and lust for life. They wear jackets and ties, and buy real estate and communicate with cell phones - but they also wolf down food that they eat with their paws; they are both anthropomorphic and feral at the same time, and this emerges as the central conflict in the story.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a chicken thief by trade, but Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) wants him to find a new line of work after they get caught in a trap and she tells him that she’s pregnant. He agrees to do this, and then becomes a columnist for the local newspaper; but he is a wild animal by nature, and eventually his nature gets the best of him, so he goes back to stealing chickens - though he hides it from his wife, which is the human side of him trying to do an end run around his feral nature. Along the way, he decides that he no longer wants to live in a hole like foxes do, so he buys a nice tree and has a house built in it - despite being told that he is moving to a bad part of town, near the farms of three humans who are excoriated in song as meanie-heads.

Of course, Fox eventually runs afoul of the farmers, who naturally band together to snuff him out - and his family and all of his friends, while they’re at it; and, equally naturally, his family and friends join forces to try to defeat the farmers so that they can maintain a relatively peaceful existence under the radar (and under the ground). Eventually I’m going to have to start taking notes when I watch certain movies, because sometimes there is just too much going on to try to remember all of the little details that are worth mentioning - and this is especially true of Wes Anderson pictures; but for those of you who are familiar with Wes Anderson pictures, you certainly won’t be disappointed when it comes to all of the little things going on in the background.

All of the technical aspects of the film are first rate, as one would expect - with the cinematography, particularly with respect to framing, being especially good. The stop-motion animation is as good as it gets, with lines so crisp and textures so rich that I got the feeling the movie was filmed in HD, and that it’s going to look spectacular when the Blu-Ray version comes out. As is usual with Wes Anderson pictures, the music is not just good, but integral to the story - it’s not quite as out front as it might have been if Quentin Tarantino or Zack Braff had been involved, but it’s no more than a notch or two below that. Jason Reitman (Juno) is another director who uses music in this way - which should be evidenced in his new picture Up in the Air, which opened in select cities this past weekend and goes wide on Christmas, and is beginning to emerge as the odds-on favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Having said all of that, though, I still have no good idea about why I failed to connect with this movie in a more emotional way. It works on pretty much every level, including the metaphorical - when Mr. Fox presses for a fancy new house in a nice tree, despite the fact that he and his wife are not especially well off, you get a whiff of the subprime mortgage mess that contributed to what the MSM is now calling the Great Recession; and the consistently blurred line between wild animal and upright citizen is a not-so-subtle swipe at the lack of civility in a society where people crash state dinners, poison pop stars, and fake the peril of their children using wayward balloons. And yet, despite all of this excellence, I still find myself thinking that I did not like it as much as I feel like I ought to like a movie that is this good. I liked it…but I’m just not crazy about it.

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