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The Least Annoying Children's Film In Years
on 10 February 2010
A children's film that isn't annoying? Isn't populated by idiotic, poorly animated, computer generated penguins and aliens? A children's film that is actually enjoyable? Well, it's an almost extinct species.
Purists will hate this for how it steps away from the apparently sacred relic of Dahl's original text, but let's be blunt about it: this Fantastic Mr Fox is a charming and a rare experience that follows the spirit, if not the letter, of the original, and is a charming, clever, endlessly quotable adventure that has a distinctive and wonderful style and some of the finest stop motion.
If you think this is the same kind of bland dross that they turned The Magic Roundabout and Thunderbirds into, well, then you clearly haven't seen too many awful Hollywood adaptations. Purists step away, and see this for what it is, not what it isn't.
Each summer, the cinemas are full of dull, boring, insultingly inane children's films. Tedious, generic, poorly plotted and pointlessly loud, Day-Glo rubbish tested on humans for irritancy, seemly designed to have no effect on adults apart from making adults want to slowly torture the perpetrators to death.
Any of you who have seen Ben 10 twenty hundred million times - in one afternoon - would agree wholeheartedly that the one who eventually stabs the creator to death with a passing poison-dipped swordfish should be given a medal for services to Humanity. With a statue in Reykjavik harbour for posterity.
This is not one of those films that make you want to stab yourself in the eyes with plastic sporks until your pupils are replaced by small blue crosses. It is a fine film, but an unfaithful adaptation of the original text.
Not only does it contain some of the most charming and beautiful stop motion animation seen, but also a brilliant performance from the understated Bill Murray as the most resigned but explosive badger in the history of the planet, and a quietly poignant overarching narrative that expands the original story.
Whilst there are significant deviances from the original text, the film is faithful to the spirit of Dahl, and the additions never feel superfluous or unwanted, unlike the cinematic aberration that was 2004's appalling Thunderbirds or the risible Scooby Doo movies. (Oh, and for the record, animals don't have British accents).
Suffice to say then, the vast majority of kid's films are absolutely meaningless to anyone once you get your first pubic hair. The art of a good children's film is rare indeed, to make a film that works as well for a 4-year-old as a forty-year-old, and only a handful have ever succeeded.
Welcome then, Fantastic Mr Fox. Shot through with the wonderful, and rare, purity - one might call innocence even - this film is an undisputed classic of the medium of children's film. The story's told with an understated, but clear wit and simple maturity, which enchanted an auditorium of children and adults. The characters are fully fleshed out, memorable, and charming. Even the unexpected appearance of a stop motion former Britpop star.
Every film director is a victim of their own style. Tthe great filmmakers of this day and age have their own personality on film and it's easy to spot a Gilliam or a Tarantino or a Wes Anderson moment a mile off.
Even when the film is a meticulously constructed, stop motion tale based on a Roald Dahl book, there is no way that this film can be recognised as anything other than the work of Wes Anderson. Talking of which, this film is versed in the language of cinema - with homages to Tarantino, De Palma, and most classic heist movies of the 70s, as well as quite a few war movies with Nazi's from the 60s, Communist propaganda movies, and a wonderfully sly take on the moronic overdubbing of movies that often happens for TV.
Being Wes Anderson must carry with it some pressure; the plot lines that revolve around acceptance, the unusual and distinctively quirky mise-en-scene, and the small revolving cast of names and talent (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, the Wilsons), and the odd musical interludes. Were a Wes Anderson film not to contain these moments, it is possible that the studio could sue for unrepresentative material, just as Warners sued Neil Young in 1982 when he veered from his distinctive country rock to bizarre electro with Trans.
So even if Fantastic Mr Fox doesn't necessarily feel like a Wes Anderson film, the fact is that it is, and the stylistic choices that we would not really notice in any other film are now seen through the Anderson Lens. It is possibly the best Wes Anderson film yet, a brilliantly likeable children's tale, and, above all, a success. It's an Anderson film first, and what a film it is.
Purists and traditionalists need not apply. Go watch Thunderbirds On A Magic Roundabout to see what true cinematic destruction is, and then come back to this