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Patronizing Mr Fox,
This review is from: Fantastic Mr Fox [DVD]  (DVD)
After narrowly escaping from a trap during a raid on a squab farm, Mr Fox (George Clooney) agrees to his pregnant wife's (Meryl Streep) demands to take up a less dangerous profession. Two years later and Mr Fox is now a newspaper columnist and the two have raised a teenage son called Ash (Jason Schwartzman). The Foxes make the decision to relocate to a better home. Against the advice of his lawyer, Clive Badger (Bill Murray), Mr Fox chooses a den situated at the base of a huge tree. From Badger, Mr Fox learns of that the land near his hole is occupied by the three farms of three notoriously wicked and wealthy farmers - the gluttonous chicken farmer Walter Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), the diminutive duck farmer Nathan Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and the skinny turkey farmer and cider brewer Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon). Hated and feared by the locals, they are all part of the attraction for the high risk-taking Mr Fox who decides to steal from them one by one. All goes to plan at the beginning, until the three farmers decide to declare war on Mr Fox and his family...
I hold my hand up to being a fan of stop-motion animation and yet not the greatest convert to the products of Aardman Animations. With this in mind, I looked forward to Fantastic Mr Fox being made by a production other than aforementioned creators of Wallace and Gromit. This fact may have sweetened me to the fact that an American production company, 20th Century Fox, were tackling what was essentially a British children's book and one that was hugely influential over my childhood. I was brought up a Roald Dahl fan and "Fantastic Mr Fox" was favourite personal favourite of his children's works. It had everything a child can enjoy in a fantasy-based story - witty animals, grisly villains and an innocent countryside setting. Unfortunately the charm and, dare I say, magic of the book does not transfer happily to Hollywood.
Enough has already been said in other reviews with the blatant cloning of Clooney's role in the "Ocean's Eleven" re-make franchise and grafting it onto Mr Fox. It's not a subtle observation; it is cynical playing to the US market, as are the other new elements added to the story. Rather than having a witty fox taking advantage of his surroundings, we now have an ambitious adrenaline junkie with the stereotypical grounding wife who tries making him acknowledge his responsibilities to his family. He also has a typical sullen teenage son in a totally unoriginal and irritating sub-plot, who finds himself being overshadowed by his cousin, Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), who comes to stay with the family. The evolution of their relationship is pretty predictable.
Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach are fans of Dahl's. That much is believable. Sadly they don't seem to trust the source material enough and felt a need to bookend the original storyline with totally new material. Despite needlessly "updating" many of the elements of the story (read shoehorning in extra plot angles, characters and situations), the soundtrack of the film seems to be a pointless and out of place '60s rock 'n roll "homage" to the era in which Dahl wrote the original novel.
To make matters worse, this film is coated with a type of superficial sophistication aimed to make upper middleclass parents feel clever. It is this style that I think enamoured this film to the early critics. This is never better demonstrated in the contrived style of animation used by Henry Selick. Now Selick is certainly an animator worth looking out for. He has been behind several of my own favourite animated films and should be acknowledged at least much as Tim Burton for "The Nightmare Before Christmas". Going by his history, I am not a fan of collaborations with Anderson. "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" was a pretentious and thoroughly annoying piece of pseudo-art, which fell off the line of "off beat comedy" and into the realm of "thinks its clever when it isn't". In this respect, "Fantastic Mr Fox" is certainly a marked improvement.
This is not to say the film isn't completely irredeemable, although I am not surprised it didn't do well at the box office. Wilhelm Defoe's ridiculously large rat character, for example, adds a degree of confrontation and some extra peril that compliments Dahl's original story. It is not needed and very Hollywood in line with the faults I have outlined, but the scenes are well shot and Defoe is well cast in the role.