"I'm saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you'll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?"
I was initially very excited to see this - I like the indie-Wes-Anderson style and I was keen to see a new adaptation of a Roald Dahl book. The adverts looked impressive - stop-go-motion effects with meerkat-posture foxes and then, suddenly it was given this credible publicity campaign as it was billed for the opening night gala for The London Film Festival. The voices were big guns - George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman - the list goes on. I am keen, I am excited and - following Jo's recommendation, at the Barbican, I managed to watch it ...
What I reckon ...
From the first moment you see the foxes you are chuckling to yourself - they walk with a prim-delicate touch. Pointy feet and, as stated, posture like you see of meerkats. Seeing Mrs. Fox and Mr. Fox run around - their slender bodies zipping up and down, suddenly up-close, suddenly far away and talking with the speed of their movement. Its such a funny sight - and so unique. I have no idea what other director could create such characters - the stop-go-motion adds to the rural unique atmosphere and, therefore adds to the comedy.
Mark Kermode mentioned a 'smug' and 'talkative' attitude and it is very chatty - but that is more a trait of the foxes themselves and the animals. They are plenty of examples of visual comedy - one sequence as the foxes rob a house you see their actions through video-camera feeds only. Reminded me of the start of Snatch actually. Another sequence as Fox and Rat fight and electricity lights up sporadically while they do so. Even some stunning silhouettes of characters - such as a wolf on a hill and as Beansy lighting a cigarette in a doorway - visually engaging. Yes they are chatty but its hardly a bad call on Wes Andersons part - it just happens to go against the target audience that is children.
Children shouldn't really have to work out what the word 'Cuss' replaces (four letters, begins with F...) because that is adult in its content. Comedy about existentialism isnt easy for kids to understand funnily enough. Those jokes when a character talks for long periods and then all the other characters look at the character in awe/shock and its funny - for kids, they would probably assume that they just don't get the joke. Referring to animals by the latin-name ... is this really comedy for kids? I don't think the bugs in A Bugs Life would do such a thing. Having listen to Adam and Matty's Filmspotting podcast on Where the Wild Things Are they discuss how the darkness of Jonzes' movie is missed often with kids movies -and he's right - but one thing most childrens-filmmakers don't forget is the language kids understand - the actual words they hear and whether they understand it. I'm a teacher and I wouldn't use a word like Existentialism without explaining what it means to 16 year olds!
This is a kids film that seems to target educated young adults. We see the 2D rolling pans that I recall in NES and Sega Master System computer games - even Abe's Odyssey and Abe's Exodus had 2D rolling movement as the game progressed - but suddenly showed the 3D layers of the environment much like Fantastic Mr. Fox did. Retro-computer games methinks ... then we have the point-of-view of the dogs running around - as if we control him in some sort of shoot-em-up game. These link not to current children - but the children ten, fifteen years prior. Morricone-style music as a Western as the film finishes ... really what kids like to see? Ultimately the theme of capitalism is something that, as adults we see more of in our life than kids. The idea "I dont want to be poor" " but we are poor" - greed and materialism of the eighties and nineties. Though simple concepts - they are not concepts or issues children have to face. Children get their money from their parents. Maybe the one aspect kids would relate to is Ash and Kristofferson - the idea that, akin to Buzz and Woody, a new kid comes into town who is, ultimately, better than you. Then again, the role of the father is an important aspect - and more importantly how the child looks up to his flawed father so much is also worth mentioning.
It does look fantastic - and that rural tone, as first mentioned, is the biggest plus point and is something that is unique to this. The corduroy jackets and patchwork and textured land reminds me of the textures on Woody's clothing in Toy Story. I always remember stop-go-motion as the effects-that-never-were on Jurassic Park before Stan Winston and ILM stampeded over Phil Tippetts stop-go-motion possibilities. Clearly stop-go-motion and Phil Tippett are still in the job and can make stunning films (not Starship Troopers 3) without having to concede defeat to CGI.