I remember, when I was a kid, being endlessly addicted to watching Nickelodeon. I loved it. Everything from Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s Elephant Show and David the Gnome to Double Dare and GUTS (I’m not sure why that one was always in all caps). But every now and then, two cartoons would come on that were very different from the network’s regular line up. Danger Mouse and Banana Man stood out to kid-me for some reason. (Of course, I would come to find out later that this was because both series were British.) At the time, I had no idea why. But I knew there was something about how they told the story and how the shows were drawn that set them apart. And I liked that.
And after seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox, I think I’ve found that mysterious quality again (and I’m not talking about it being British).
Fantastic Mr. Fox, the book, was written by Roald Dahl. He’s responsible for some of the most famous works of children’s literature ever, including James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The Witches. Fantastic Mr. Fox, the movie, is from director Wes Anderson. He’s the man who brought us such visually distinct films as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Both of these men have brought us some of the most different art of the past 50 years.
Going into this film, I was torn between my previous experiences with the work of each. While I’ve loved nearly everything Roald Dahl’s written (along with most of the movies that have been based on his work), I’ve never connected with (or liked) Wes Anderson’s work. (I know, I know… some of you will cry foul at the thought of someone not enjoying Tenenbaums or Rushmore. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.) But I love stop-motion animation, so I bought some Sour Patch Kids and walked into the theater knowing I’d at least enjoy that.
What I got was an amazing, and all together different, film experience that I’d highly recommend to everyone.
This is the story of Mr. Fox, a bird thief, and his wife, Felicity. One day, while out on a routine job, they get captured in a fox trap. Felicity makes Mr. Fox promise that, if they make it out of this alive, he’ll get a safer job. Fast forward to the future, Mr. Fox is now a newspaper columnist who is settled into his new life with his wife and son in their foxhole. But, of course, he misses his old life and wants to pull one last job. But his intended targets are the farms of the three meanest farmers around: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. He assembles a team, and completes his “final” job. But when the farmers decide to get revenge, Mr. Fox has to call on the help of all of his friends and family to survive.
It’s no secret that I love stop-motion animation. Earlier this year, I gave Coraline one of my highest reviews ever. And The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my all time faves. The animation here isn’t quite as polished as those other films, but more than makes up for it in charm. During close-ups of the characters, you can see slight differences in how the fur of characters has shifted from frame to frame. The character design is great, as are the environments that Anderson has created in order to give his characters a world to inhabit.
But the movie’s biggest strength is found in how its voice cast truly gels together and provides each character with such a strong base that truly makes you feel like you’re watching real people (or animals) on screen. Jason Schwartzman as Ash, Mr. Fox’s son, is incredible and made me laugh many, many times. And, at this point in history, if you’re surprised that Bill Murray is funny, then you’ve been living under a rock.
All in all, Fantastic Mr. Fox is an incredibly imaginative, wonderfully funny, and visually charming film that I loved. So, rest easy Wes Anderson. I’m finally on your team. I hope you make more movies like this one. I know I’ll be in line…
Josh Treece doesn’t watch Nickelodeon anymore. But he does watch Cartoon Network. If growing up means he has to stop watching cartoons, then he doesn’t want to do it. When he’s not watching cartoons, he’s ministering to teenagers.