movie film review | chris tookey

Fantastic Mr Fox

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  Fantastic Mr Fox Review
Tookey's Rating
1 /10
Average Rating
7.00 /10
Mr. Fox - George Clooney, Mrs. Fox - Meryl Streep
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Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach , based on the novel by Roald Dahl

Released: 2009
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 87

Fantastically disappointing.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Fantastic Mr Fox is one of Roald Dahlís finest stories, about a wily fox outwitting three farmers determined to exterminate him and his family. The charm of Dahlís book is that it takes a dark, realistic view of foxes as predators, but the humans are even worse. The farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean are as greedy and implacable as a bunch of bonus-crazed bankers, which makes it easy for children and adults alike to root for the family-oriented Mr Fox.

Director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited) goes with the kind of stop-motion animation pioneered by Wladyslaw Starewicz in The Tale of the Fox (1932). But this has none of the charm of Wallace and Gromit, or even those irritating compare-the-meerkat commercials.

For children, the jerky movement of the animals may be disturbing, not to mention the moments when they bare their unbeautiful teeth. They look horribly like stuffed, dead animal heads on human bodies, with virtually no expression on their rigid little faces.

Anderson, who lived in Paris while his film was shot in England and tried to direct the thing by email, has set the story in an annoyingly spaced-out vision of England, seemingly based on viewings of Postman Pat while under the influence of recreational drugs.

Only the bad guys sound English. The good ones speak with American accents and embrace a US lifestyle, hanging out at the Five and Dime and playing a baseball-type game with very American coaching methods.

Dahlís happy family of foxes is turned by Anderson and his co-writer Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) into one of their typically hip but dysfunctional American families, with Mr Fox (voiced with maximum smugness by George Clooney) a newspaper columnist undergoing a midlife crisis in which he keeps reverting to his wilder youth.

Jason Schwartzman, a charmless actor incomprehensibly over-indulged by Anderson, plays Foxís son as a needy, self-absorbed whinger. One of several new and thoroughly inessential characters is Mr Foxís nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, the directorís brother), a kick-boxing yoga enthusiast.

The imposition of Andersonís perennial-adolescent obsessions on to Dahlís simple tale is itself dysfunctional, for it makes the story much less accessible to children, and indeed unsympathetic to anyone who loathes American psychobabble.

Andersonís equally ill-advised attempt to turn the piece into a wisecracking Oceans 11-style heist movie also strikes a dissonant chord, especially as the directorís acting friends (such as Owen Wilson and Bill Murray) are bizarrely unsuited to a British context.

The script isnít nearly as witty as Anderson thinks it is. Time and time again, would-be comic lines are tossed off as if they are Wildean epigrams (such as when Mr Fox tells his wife "You're still as fine-looking as a creme brulee"). But most sink like a Sharon Stone movie because theyíre not funny or perceptive. I am sure that Dahl himself would roll his eyes at the dreadfully immature attempts at adult sophistication, which come across as complacent, self-congratulatory whimsy.

Too many of Andersonís numerous changes are pointless. The marital tension between Mr and Mrs Fox (a wasted Meryl Streep) doesnít come to anything, and Mr Foxís career as a newspaper columnist is an irrelevance.

Whereas Dahl kept his foxes and other animals relatively true to their wild selves, Anderson humanises and Americanises without bothering to establish a coherent set of rules for his far too self-consciously quirky universe.

Three splendid films have emerged from Roald Dahlís childrenís books: The Witches, Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And some people are fonder than I am of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Danny The Champion of the World and James and the Giant Peach.

Fantastic Mr Fox has been weirdly overpraised, possibly because it opened the London Film Festival in a blaze of publicity for its celebrity cast, but it is by some distance the worst of the lot.

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