LFF Preview: Fantastic Mr Fox
Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox will have its world premiere at the London Film Festival's opening gala tonight. Suchandrika Chakrabarti reviews.In case you don't know (shame on you if you don't), Fantastic Mr Fox is a 1970 children's novel by Roald Dahl. The film fleshes out the original storyline, which sees Mr Fox outsmarting the local triumvirate of mean farmers - Boggis, Bunce and Bean - by overcoming their attempts to kill him, and setting up a tunnel right into the farmers' storehouses, ensuring that the local animal population will never go hungry, or get caught by the stupid farmers.
It's so nice to see Anderson back on form. The movie is much more Anderson than Dahl; it has the look and feel of his other films, and he also fills in a lot of family detail that is missing from the book, but is recognisable from his other work, especially from The Royal Tenenbaums. As ever, there is a distant, talented father (George Clooney as the title character), a son trying to win his father's approval (Jason Schwartzman), internal family rivalries and a loving but ultimately subjugated mother (only with Meryl Streep's voice filling in for Anjelica Huston this time). We've seen these types (and, indeed, many of the actors) before in The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, where they have felt tired, as though Anderson had mined those seams too far into the ground.
It all works this time, though. The stop-motion characters are charming - not cute, we see Mr Fox biting a chicken to death, and of course this story is all about animals stealing and eating other animals - and the cartoony quality of Anderson's films works well here. Where it is just odd when his human characters never change clothes and exist in strictly colour-co-ordinated confines - mainly yellow, always with the yellow - this makes sense in the context of a film that looks as though it's for children (it's pretty good for adults too; you'll get a lot more from it than they will) and is clearly a flight of fantasy.
Anderson's quirks add to the story, instead of making it seem twee or patronising. For instance, the yellow. In one memorable scene towards the end, the Fox party come face to face with a wolf, one of Mr Fox's worst nightmares. The landscape they sit in is suffused with yellow, but the wolf, high on a lonely rock, stands against a white, snowy background, living out his own story that is separate, and no threat, to theirs.
Anderson's favourite technique of making a film look like a book, by focusing in on a cover, and then having the chapter headings across the top of new scenes (in yellow, naturally), is straight out of Tenenbaums, but it works as an invitation into Dahl's novel here. He has found the right home for his unique style - animation.
The voice acting is excellent, and, unusually, took place outside the studio, meaning that if the action was happening in a barn, that's where they recorded. Mr Fox's son Ash (Schwartzman) and his visiting cousin, Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) have a nice brotherly chemistry, reminiscent of the squabbles between Chas and Richie Tenenbaum. Mrs Fox's character is perhaps a little underdeveloped - although this is sometimes the sad fate of women in Anderson films, especially mothers - but there are intriguing hints towards her past as the "town tart" who knew that she should not have married Mr Fox. As I said before, it isn't just for kids.
It's a good film, and it kept this non-kid entertained for 90 minutes. Even better, it made me like Wes Anderson's schtick again. Catch it if you can...
The London Film Festival begins tonight. Click here for more information.