Wednesday, December 2, 2009

(Mostly) Fantastic Mr. Fox

Anyone who read my preview post about Fantastic Mr. Fox knows that I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson. And I was pretty excited about the movie. And for good reason -- aside from Wes Anderson's direction, the movie had a lot going for it: the voice cast was great, it was done in very cool and underused stop animation style, and the movie had been getting great reviews (including a nearly unheard of 100% rating on rottentomatoes). But, much to my chagrin, despite having been released for two weeks, the movie was not playing anywhere near me (Charlotte, NC) until the last few days.

To say I was disappointed would be misleading. I liked the movie. I really did. I just didn't like it as much as I thought I would. It was definitely enjoyable, and there were many things about it that were vintage Anderson. Despite being an adaptation of a children's book, it was certainly geared towards adults. It was full of the dark, humorous, and awkward one liners we've come to love from Anderson. I think my favorite character of the movie was actually Jason Schwartzman's "Ash," Mr. Fox's insecure son who is obsessed with proving himself to his father as being an athlete (the sport they play in the movie, called "whackbat," is pretty hilarious). His approval-seeking (and yet rebellious at the same time) attitude leads to some pretty funny moments. And George Clooney's "Mr. Fox" also had some pretty funny lines as well.

The stop animation was very well done and made me realize that more movies should be done this way. As I watched, I thought about how long it must take to produce a stop animation film -- according to WikiAnswers, it probably takes about 1 to 2 hours for every 30 seconds of animating; if you extrapolate that out to 90 minutes of movie, you're looking at about 180 to 360 hours. Keep in mind that this is only to shoot the movie and doesn't factor in all the prep time it takes to actually create the scenes. It's no small time commitment. And the voice work (especially Jason Schwartzman and Michael Gambon as "Mr. Bean") was also pretty good. Most of the movie was George Clooney's "Mr. Fox" talking, but his voice fit the part well. And Streep sounded like a natural as the supportive, yet frustrated, "Mrs. Fox."

But there seemed to be certain things that were lost in translation -- things that I would've appreciated and enjoyed much more if the movie had real people in it. I think it made various parts less funny than they otherwise could have been if real actors were on screen (i.e., I would've laughed much more if Bill Murray the man was on screen as opposed to Bill Murray the badger). It's really not anyone's fault -- pretty much all animated (especially stop animation) movies suffer from a similar fate. It's hard to convey certain facial expressions through animated characters, and, for the most part, real people are just funnier than animated characters (in this blogger's opinion anyway). Don't get me wrong -- I completely understand that this movie needed to be animated (it is, after all, about a group of talking animals), and, truthfully, many of the movie's strengths stem from the fact that it was. But I'm still much more of a fan of "real life" Wes Anderson movies. And I probably always will be.

Bottom line: Wes Anderson loyalists might be slightly disappointed with the film, but it is still a quality piece of work with many things you'd typically expect from him. The stop animation is pretty cool, and I'd recommend it to moviegoers of all ages. (B)

Here's the trailer:

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