Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My DVD Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox is (Close to) Fantastic

So the copy of The Fantastic Mr. Fox that has been sitting in my Netflix queue for, like, four months finally arrived. I was happy to get a movie that would keep the kids' attention and in which I had at least an ounce of interest. It is indie director Wes Anderson's first outing in animation and kiddie material (in this case, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel of the same name). It had a host of great actors behind it, from George Clooney (as the titular character) to Bill Murray to Meryl Streep to Adrien Brody. It was a rare opportunity to satisfy my more high-brow tastes and spend quality time with the kids.

What I can tell you is that, most of all, Fox is an indie movie. Tongue-in-cheek cheekiness pervades the entirety of the film. Not that that's a bad thing. It's just a tad too subtle for youngsters and probably for most adults. In fact, the first laugh of the film came some fifteen minutes in. And it came only from me, mostly because I had just barely adjusted to Anderson's trademark deadpan humor. As the film progressed, I realized this humor defined whole film. The old-school stop-motion animation. The close-ups. The folksy soundtrack. The muted dialogue and movement. All of it seemed calculated to put all of this drab, cool casualness squarely in the audience's face.

Not that that is a bad thing.

The humor really does grow on you. The relationships between the members of the Fox family feel real and accessible. And even the heist/prison break plot generates some real thrills. What the crew accomplishes with the crude, strictly CG-free stop-motion is incredible in its own right. The no-frills approach does, however, hamper the action just as it seems ready to crescendo. Which brings me back to my original summation of the movie. It is determinedly indie. In the case of animation, an art engineered to heighten reality, the filmmakers' conscious decision to subdue this action seems forced and unnatural.

There are plenty of fantastic things about Fox. I would not have paid to see this movie in the theater, but it is worth the change blown at the Redbox or on Netflix. Watch it ready to let go of your popcorn sensibilities and just enjoy its uber-casualness for what it is.

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