Monday, November 30, 2009

Movie Log: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

The world has unexpected depths to it: my older son is turning into something like a younger version of me (but even more so, if that's possible), while my younger son is becoming almost exactly the kid I always thought I wanted to have: witty, smart, interesting, adventurous, and thoughtful -- the kid, perhaps, that I always wished that I'd been. I'm trying to enjoy both of them as they are right now, since if there's one thing you can count on with kids, it's that they'll change -- faster than you expect, in ways you can't anticipate, on the roads to becoming the people they're going to be.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film about fathers and sons -- and about what fathers see and don't see in those sons, and the sons' resentment of that -- but, more to the point, it's also the movie that my two sons and I saw the Friday after Thanksgiving, almost entirely because Thing 2, that younger son, really wanted to...and I'm not sure entirely why, now. I know he didn't want to see it for the reasons I did -- it's a Wes Anderson movie, and every movie Anderson has made has been interesting and worth seeing; it's in stop-motion animation, which I always admire the skill and craft of; it features voices by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray, all actors whose work I enjoy -- but I'm not sure what did engage him about it. Maybe I should just ask him; he might be able to tell me.

Fantastic Mr. Fox adapts and expands the Roald Dahl novel of the same name, turning it into a Wes Anderson movie that includes kids in its audience but isn't directly aimed at them, like most movies for children. I doubt Anderson took his inspiration directly from them, but Mr. Fox is imbued with something like the Pixar film-making ethos: movies are stories, and if you find your story carefully and tell it well, it can be a story for many people as individuals and not just a piece of product aimed at a Hollywood "quadrant."

George Clooney provides the voice for the title character, who promises his newly-pregnant wife (Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox) in the pre-credit sequence that he'll stop stealing chickens and get a safer job. And so he does -- the main body of the movie takes place twelve fox-years (two human years) later, with Mr. Fox working as a newspaper columnist and living in a burrow. He's safe and stable as a family man, but the loss of the excitement is eating away at him.

So he buys a new house, in a big tree right in view of the three nastiest farmers in the valley -- Boggs, Bunce, and Bean -- and soon enlists the local handyman (Anderson regular Wally Wolodarsky as the opossum Kylie) in "one last big score." One turns to three, since he has to rob each of the three farmers in turn. But when they realize the theft, they come after Mr. Fox, and all of the local animals, with overwhelming force.

Meanwhile, Fox's son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is a sullen, unappreciated teenager, which is only made worse when his visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) turns out to be a "natural" at everything athletic.

All of the animals are eventually trapped together, deep underground, with human sharpshooters watching everywhere outside. There's no way out -- except, possibly one so tricky that only a fox could figure it out.

2009 has turned into a great year for animated movies, with Coraline and Up and now Fantastic Mr. Fox -- all three of them, like so many of the best movies, about family and community, but each of them with a different take on the thorny issues of self and society. It's a great time to be alive and watching movies.


leonsp said...

If you have a chance, you should watch Mary and Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Eric Bana), another great stop-motion movie from this year. It's not child appropriate, though, and didn't get a wide release.

leonsp said...

Or maybe "Mary and Max" is child appropriate. Ontario rated it as G:

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