Film Break: “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Fantastic may be the understatement of the year– Wes Anderson’s new film is flat-out stupendous, and in an already-historic year for Hollywood adaptations of childhood classics, ranging from Spike Jonze’s triumph of interpretation in Where the Wild Things Are to the zany inspiration of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Anderson’s Fox is the stone-cold champ, a knockout movie and a masterstroke of collaboration.
Yes, collaboration– for this is nothing if not a joint effort with author Roald Dahl, whose spirit is not so much reverently preserved here as it is given room to breathe life into this wonderfully witty and creative movie. It’s also a collaboration between Anderson and a whole cadre of animators; clealy enamored with the stop-motion effects he used in his Life Aquatic, he brings to this one a homespun, kids’ craft project vibe, rendering the story as a masterpiece in corduroy and fur.
But what makes it masterful is that it’s as quintessentially Wes Anderson as any movie he’s made: He makes his love of the story apparent by injecting it with his own wit– which has never been funnier or less cloying– and an aesthetic that’s charmingly rustic, both visually and even sonically, as Anderson recorded his actors all together on a farm, preserving not just the spontaneity but the naturalism of the session. He brings out his own typically Andersonian themes in the film– there are daddy issues, self-esteem issues, grappling with failure– but never feels as though he’s twisting Dahl’s work.
And it is also, by the way, a terrific Thanksgiving movie: At one point Mr. Fox himself expresses gratitude and, as he puts it, “awareness” not just for basic survival, but for the blessings of family and community. It’s a particularly warm moment in an entirely loveable and endlessly enjoyable movie– one that I’m particularly thankful.