2009 | Wes Anderson
Creating a stop-motion animated adaptation of a children’s film and ensuring its multi-generational appeal is no easy task. A task so difficult it’s hard to think of a time when it’s ever been done. Of course there have been stop-motion animation successes such as Chicken Run and Corpse Bride, and there have certainly been adult adaptations of children’s books (Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, another Roald Dahl story, immediately comes to mind) but it’s hard to recall a merging of two incredibly difficult styles being executed not only together, but executed perfectly.
Wes Anderson has the distinction of being one of modern cinema’s finest auteurs. With a filmography containing works such as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox probably won’t be revered so highly in generations to come, but it will certainly be remembered as one of Anderson’s most underappreciated, if not his most well-executed, films. Already possessing a visual flair rivalled by few of his contemporaries, Anderson collaborates with two stop-motion veterans in cinematographer Tristan Oliver (Chicken Run, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and art director Francesca Maxwell (Chicken Run, Corpse Bride) to display an animation prowess both unexpected and awe-inspiring.
George Clooney plays the eponymous Mr. Fox, a squab thief who decides to put his life of banditry and excitement on hold when he finds out his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) is pregnant. Two years later (or twelve in Fox years, as a caption tells us) the Foxes and their sullen son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) are living in a hole. Fox is now a newspaper reporter, and decides to move his family into a home at the base of a tree, against the recommendation of his badger lawyer, Badger (Bill Murray), so he can be closer to the local farms, all run by three specialist and rival farmers. Inevitably, his taste for the hunt is insatiated once more, and Fox enlists the help of his friend and super Kylie Opossum and his nephew Kristofferson Silverfox to raid each farm one by one, drawing the ire of Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon), a shrewd cider farmer who leads the charge to catch Mr. Fox and drive him away from his farm.
The set-pieces in the film are not only attractive, but they are completely immersive. It is almost impossible to not be completely absorbed by the world created on-screen. Smoke is manufactured with cotton wool, the foxes walk, talk and dress like humans but eat like foxes, and the animals still look real even when extreme close ups potentially threaten to ruin the illusion, especially when tears run down their cheeks and eyebrows reflect emotions. It’s hardly surprising a filmmaker such as Wes Anderson seemed oddly comfortable helming an ambitious project. With such a strong, singular vision both on paper and screen, Fantastic Mr. Fox has proven his eye for animation, further cementing himself in the upper echelon of modern cinema’s most exciting, rounded filmmakers.