Foxy Picturesby Dave Durbach / 04.02.2010
Before JK Rowling took over, discerning kids all over the world were enjoying the twisted world of Roald Dahl. One of the last of his children’s stories to be given some form of film treatment is Fantastic Mr. Fox, a classic battle of wits between man and beast, and the latest offering from Wes Anderson.
Never one to play it safe, Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach (the team who brought you The Life Aquatic) have embellished Dahl’s original story, without straying far from the author’s unique brand of humour. The film has smooth-talking thief-turned-newspaper columnist Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) moving with his family from underground digs to a tree overlooking the farms of three of the meanest farmers in town – Boggis, Bunce and Bean (“one fat, one short, one lean”). Years of quiet domesticity pass, until Fox’s precocious nephew Kristofferson pays a visit. The urbane Mr. Fox gives in to the wild animal in him, and decides to embark on one last hit. With the help of his nephew and the dimwitted opossum Kylie, they pillage the neighbouring farms for all the poultry and cider they can carry.
Hell-bent on extracting revenge, the farmers dig up the Fox’s treehouse, digging deeper until the hill on which it stands has been reduced to a crater. The animals of the area are driven deeper underground, besieged. Fox engineers a ballsy counterstrike and robs the farms again. But when their underground refuge is flooded and Kristofferson is kidnapped, Fox is forced to take charge once more, leading the animals above ground to pull another fast one on the bumbling humans.
Shot digitally on a still camera, Fantastic Mr. Fox retains an old school charm, largely due to puppets and sets that eschew CGI trickery for traditional techniques (eg. cotton-wool smoke, clingfilm water, etc). Though it’s Anderson’s first foray into fully animated movies, and at adapting from book to screen, all of his signature traits are there – a richly drawn ensemble of characters, witty dialogue, quirky soundtrack and a whimsical eye for minute details that is ideally suited to stop-motion. He’s roped in all the usual suspects to lend their voices – Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Willem Defoe as the slimy rat/security guard. Fox’s wife Felicity (a name-dropping nod to Dahl’s second wife) is voiced by Meryl Streep. Jarvis Cocker is in there too, playing the farmer’s banjo-pluckin’ henchman Petey. Best of all is the besnorde helicopter pilot, who makes a brief showing near the film’s climax.
For those who remember the book, the film will be a nostalgic blast from the past. Fans of Anderson’s previous films (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling Limited, etc) definitely won’t be disappointed.
Fantastic Mr. Fox opens in South Africa on February 12th.