If Martin Scorsese’s instruction to his screenwriters was invariably “just make’em guys”, Wes Andersen’s would be to make some of the guys crippled with self-esteem issues and make the others exude unknowing self confidence.
The director of such uncanny comedies as “The Royal Tenenbaums” (Wikipedia refers to it as a “dramedy”), “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and the glorious “Rushmore” has brought his cast of regulars (Jason Schwartman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon) and his quick whited melancholy approach to the animated film.
The “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book) is an split evenly between the pure action and scheming.
I call Schwatzman a regular because I can’t understand why he isn’t in every Wes Anderson film. He gave such an electric performance as the academically challenged, tirelessly ambitious and vengeful, Max Fischer in “Rushmore”, the 1998 “comedy-drama” and the first great Anderson film. This is the same film where we discover the under-appreciated Bill Murray, an actor who’s gifts for deadpan and subtle melancholy were largely unexplored.
Mr. Fox is a quick witted “wild animal” that is not content in his suburban bliss. Played with perfect sophisticated con-man bravado by George Clooney, leaves no one unimpressed, especially in his own mind.
He is legend:athlete, thief, charmer and scoundrel. He is in many ways as polarizing as the films of Wes Anderson, which garner either exuberant praise of venomous dismissal. A case in point is the blog responses to A. O. Scott’s review in the New York Times.
The “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has not time for sentimentality as the world literally revolves around the massive Fox ego, and he is a man of action.
When he decides that he wants to live above-ground rather than in a fox-hole, ignores his lawyer’s advice about putting his very existence in peril, and get’s into a mortgage he can’t afford.
Conventional wisdom is of no interest and far too boring for Mr. Fox. He is not one to panick and can talk and think his was out of any situation. Part of the tension and drama stems from his credibility. Even his family are somewhat incredulous in front of such a smooth operator.
He decides that for posterity, he will record his scheme to pull of one last (three-part) caper to steal from everyone of the three fierce farmers he’s been warned to keep away from.
Family drama revolves around the Mrs. Fox(Meryl Streep) who wants stability; the scrauny unathletic son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), a misunderstood teenager who is seemingly unfantastic; and the yoga-meditating karate-chopping chip of the old Fox-bloc teenage nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Even Kristofferson has issues. His is uneasy his golden boy status and is exiled from an ailing father.
Fox sets about his adventures with his faithful sidekick, an opossum name Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) true to his “wild animal” spirit while lying to his wife and endagering the entire animal community with his thievery.
No calamity seems to phase him and he is able to inspire the troupes and keep esprit de corps, during the most dire of circumstances.
I, for one am glad to be back in the world of Wes Anderson, where characters are uncharacteristic, the awkward moment is to be appreciated, and you’re encouraged to stop and observe a lone wolf in the distance, even if it scares you a little.
Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Mr. Anderson and Noah Baumbach, based on the book by Roald Dahl; animation director, Mark Gustafson; director of photography, Tristan Oliver; edited by Andrew Weisblum; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Nelson Lowry; produced by Mr. Anderson, Allison Abbate, Scott Rudin and Jeremy Dawson; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.
WITH THE VOICES OF: George Clooney (Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep (Mrs. Fox), Jason Schwartzman (Ash), Bill Murray (Badger), Wally Wolodarsky (Kylie), Eric Anderson (Kristofferson), Michael Gambon (Franklin Bean), Willem Dafoe (Rat), Owen Wilson (Coach Skip) and Jarvis Cocker (Petey).