Even though we here at Pocket-lint are coaxed into gleeful states of frothy delirium whenever technological advancements come into our purview, what’s equally heart-warming is that, rather than rendered past inventions as obsolete, such creations actually tend to increase the love for the thing that they’ve outstripped.
Have the CD and MP3 not helped foster warmth towards vinyl? Does the Xbox not make the Megadrive a fond reminder of how far we’ve progressed? Granted, DVD, Blu-ray and hard disks pretty much screwed VHS, but there’ll always be an emotional attachment to the advent of home cinema.
So as James Cameron leers over the film industry with his 3D CGI innovation like he’s some 35mm Gene Simmons from Kiss, so other pockets of Hollywood have retrogressed into cruder, but arguably equally magical practices; Disney has trumpeted a return to hand-drawn animation with The Princess & The Frog after years of hiding in Pixar’s pixellated shadow, and here we have cult indie darling Wes Anderson turning to old-school stop-motion animation for his latest eccentric angst excursion.
Boasting a voice cast that would draw admiring glances if it were assembled for a charity fundraiser, FMF is a highly elastic adaptation - though utterly heartfelt if the extras are any indication - of Roald Dahl’s classic tale. Said Mr Fox (George Clooney) goes cold chicken after him and his wife are almost killed during a raid on a nearby farmer’s coop. After spending years of domestic middle-class tranquillity as a father and newspaper columnist rather than as a hunter, the lure of the nearby farmers’ produce becomes too strong to resist, and as our hero has a form of mid-life crisis, he begins to go on covert sorties to the larders of feared local farmers Bean, Boggis and Bunce.
Meanwhile, the Fox family is joined by sporting nephew Kristofferson, serving to highlight the distance between dad and misfit son Ash. As the raid on the farms become more audacious, so the ire of the ransacked farmers increases - which spells trouble for the Foxes and the local animal community, with the cuckolded cock-merchants busting out the arsenal to take down the rustlers.
Man and beast soon become locked in a game of cat and mouse, until the capture of Kristofferson sets-up a final face-off between Fox and his gang and the joint human forces of Bean, Boggins and Bunce.
Like Spike Jonze’s indifference-generator Where The Wild Things Are, this takes sizeable liberties with the source material, both with using the books as jump-off points into more adult territory, arguably at the expense of the younger audience. This shouldn’t be held against Fantastic Mr Fox, as it has enough quality about it to find its own audience.
Wes Anderson is always a sod for the minutiae of everyday existence and relationships, and you don’t get much more mundane than the need to put food on the table and provide for your family. There’s a perfect match there on a base level, which Anderson then follows through with the emphasis on the relationships between the characters and their own personal issues, rather than the thrill of the chase.
Clearly, he’s more at ease with this than he is with action sequences. Fun action scenes there are aplenty, but Anderson’s love of the quirky means that these are more comedic narrative set-pieces rather than adrenaline-pumping spots. This has the downside in that you find yourself oddly impassive in places, but that feeling is never allowed to swell to a problematic degree, as the sheer beauty of the thing is overwhelming and amply compensates for that.
The quality of the visual design is truly impressive, as is the animation itself, which is so wonderfully fluid and intricately realised that you almost cease to notice it. This fluidity is echoed by the cast - Clooney plays the standard suave Clooney part, but this is the modified kooky version that the Coens get, which is hard to be too down on, while Meryl Streep offers maternal authority, warmth and grace as his wife, and Bill Murray brings that louche reassurance that he seems to have a ceaseless supply of. The keenly observed Britishness provided in the form of Michael Gambon completes a scene that’s so perfectly rendered that, even if you’re not at one with Wes Anderson’s angular Royal Tenenbaums schtick, you’ll still find plenty to make you happy.
Some may find problems with The Fantastic Mr. Fox - it’s a kids’ film that’s more suitable for adults, and it’s possibly too mannered in its delivery for some, but it’s a distinctive and unique film that looks unlike anything else - and it takes a curmudgeonly spirit to not take any joy from it.
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Extras: Featurettes, digital version