Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. FoxWes Anderson has never been one for mainstream flicks.  His movies consistently focus on quirky characters with less-than-ideal family situations, and derive a sort of awkward comedy from odd situations and situations.  Rarely one to go for a simple punchline, the heart and humor of movies like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, and his other films is drawn straight from putting the audience in the middle of awkward, borderline cringe-worthy situations and eschewing our expectations of what we have been conditioned by a mainstream Hollywood movies to see.  That’s not to say his movies are especially enjoyable, mind you.  I can appreciate, to a certain extent, the raison d’être for these strange celluloid experiences, but they don’t exactly make for good entertainment.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, then, seems like the perfect opportunity for Anderson to break out of his comfort zone and craft a tale that would appeal to all ages, adapted from a beloved kid’s book, based around talking forest creatures working together to solve problems and tackle issues.  Unfortunately, what could be a lighthearted children’s movie with possibly some adult themes and life lessons (see also: Up, Ratatouille, Beauty and the Beast) ends up getting bogged down by Anderson’s quirky sensibilities and characters that are never really fleshed out to their true potential.  Broken up in a series of related vignettes, the story centers on Mr. Fox and his family who move into a tree near the properties of the local Town Grumps:  Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, three farmers who don’t take kindly to foxes stealing their chickens and other belongings.  Mr. Fox, who has retired from his chicken-hunting ways and now has a sensible job as a newspaper columnist, decides to take a trip back to the glory days of his youth and embark on one last harrowing chicken-thieving adventure even though doing so could endanger his wife, son, and everyone else he cares about.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Planning

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and Badger (Bill Murray) plot their revenge on the farmers.

It’s a selfish conceit, but one that Mr. Fox atones for in various ways throughout the course of the film.  Getting to that point involves such a wandering journey with a disconcerting lack of narrative focus that it’s a little unsettling and at times downright frustrating.  There are so many things happening in this movie that are only superficially dealt with that I was not sure why they were included in the first place.  Mr. Fox has a strained relationship with his son Ash, and instead is all too quick to sing the praises of their live-in nephew Kristofferson.  But this relationship conflict is never really brought to a satisfying conclusion, and instead just pops up from time to time.  Ash and Kristofferson are also somewhat at odds over a girl in their school whom they both fancy, but again this thread is left dangling with no resolution at the end.  The somewhat central plotline of Mr. Fox returning to his farm-raiding days of old is present throughout the film, and as his schemes escalate into a full-blown battle between the three farmers and the Fox family and a handful of moles things get refreshingly ridiculous and overblown but in a way that’s enjoyable instead of pretentious.  Watching the farmers call in a fleet of excavating equipment to dig the Fox family out of their hole is such a fun exaggeration it could have been pulled straight from the far-super Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film full of potential half-baked to watery mediocrity by a director who was too busy exercising his own eccentricities to focus on creating a truly enjoyable and entertaining film.  The stop-motion artistry is outstanding, and Ray Harryhausen himself would likely tip his hat in approval, but ultimately it’s the story that matters, and that’s where the film unfortunately falls short.


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