Ten Words or Less Review: Very likeable stop motion effort.
Wes Anderson has slowly but surely been tempting fate and the film going community to label him a one-dimensional show pony. Too many film admirers have spent too much time and too many words endlessly fawning on his tepid output. When Anderson releases a film, many critics pucker up to kiss his ass no matter how irrelevant the results are. His body of work follows quite closely to the laws of diminishing returns. For each new film a little bit more of the novelty is gone and more of the limited nature of the ability is viewable. “Rushmore’s” greatness lead to the decently mixed bag of “The Royal Tenenbaum’s” which lead to the amazingly dull “Life Aquatic” which resulted in the slightly less lethargic “Darjeeling Limited.” So it’s with surprise and amusement that his stop motion project, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, breaks his back sliding tendencies. It may not be a revelation of the medium, but it’s lighter, unforced and endlessly more enjoyable than anything Anderson has done in years.
“Fox” excels because it knows how to achieve sublime laughs with seemingly minor efforts. All of Anderson’s trademarks are readily apparent, lots of symmetry, a good pop rock soundtrack, but they’re in service of a story in which his bucket of idiosyncrasies feels at ease with what’s happening. To date, Anderson has been forcing stories to fit his style instead of letting things in the story control him. Things have to look and be a certain way whether it amounts to anything or not. Part of Anderson’s core is nothing more than a silly prankster, begging to amuse and he’s finally latched onto an appropriate tale which lets us in on this gag. “Fox” is about little more than the joy of thievery. Never before has a pseudo-kid film been so in love with stealing things in general, but robbery schematics and bandit masks to boot. George Clooney voices the title character, a life long thief who can no longer stand the constrained nature of the legitimate life he’s taken on. He’s a robber of goods and must be true to himself. He initially abandons his devil may care ways so that he and his wife, a barely noticeable Meryl Streep, can raise their forthcoming son. As age, his son and responsibility grow, Mr. Fox falls back into the patterns of youthful recklessness. He hatches a plot to steal the various delicacies of his industrial produce neighbors who in turn set out to destroy him. The results of his transgressions begin to wreck the life of his entire community, not just himself. Lessons are learned.
As stated, Anderson’s desire to be uniquely visual melds wonderfully with the nature of stop motion animation. Compared to the exceedingly refined quality of recent stop motion efforts like “Coraline” or “The Corpse Bride”, “Mr. Fox” is just a little primitive looking by comparison. It lacks the boundary pushing nature of those efforts. Where as those movies could only exist now, “Mr. Fox” could be 20 years old and no one would be the wiser. Breaking barriers and playing a game of stop motion one upsmanship isn’t the motive here. It exists to push forth Anderson’s singularities which impresses with minor details and exceedingly lush cinematography.
“The Fantastic Mr. Fox” isn’t a film so much without faults as it is a movie with only certain ambitions. It’s here to push forth its hip sensibilities and oddball sense of humor and this it does very well. For those who don’t catch its vibe correctly, it will be little more than an odd kid movie with a chuckle or two around certain corners. Fans of Anderson should enjoy it, and some of his less ardent detractors will likely enjoy it too. And to be quite clear and upfront, this is not a traditional kid’s movie by any stretch and part of me thinks children will be bored senseless by it. The ones in audience at my viewing seemed to be thoroughly uninterested. But if you’re reading this your not a kid, so don’t worry about it.