It's not often in an animated film based on a children's tale that you hear your lead character ask, “What's the subtext here?” before then waxing philosophically that he's “saying this more like existentialism.” Then again and before his brilliant return to top form, director Wes Anderson had never made an animated movie before... well, not technically.
Having employed the stop-motion process in Life Aquatic before he took it on full time for this complete stop-motion epic, there was always something so highly stylized about Anderson's movies from the very beginning whether it was in the near cartoon like costuming and props to distinguish one Royal Tenenbaum from another or the selection of retro rock soundtracks to cut chase and/or revenge sequences together perfectly in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore respectively.
Therefore, it seemed like a natural progression for Anderson to take a live action vacation, since his previous work complete with the emphasis on center of frame people placement a la Polanski and highly literary Truffaut worthy character reveals through narration or dialogue made him the most perfect choice to tackle Roald Dahl since Tim Burton and Danny De Vito did the very same with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda years earlier.
Finding ideal source material in the very first book that the filmmaker ever owned and loved, emulating the hidden fortress like terrain of the foxes in the text by fort building with his brothers in Texas, Anderson collaborated with his Aquatic co-writer, Noah Baumbach.
Instead of relying on overused CGI and green screen effects, the screens were kept to a minimum in favor of the foreground of sequences crafted by those who worked on both Coraline and Corpse Bride, which used puppets complete with fur that were placed in roughly 120 sets over the course of the film's brisk 87 minute running time.
The authenticity and painstaking process pays off richly as Fox's look alone sets it apart from every other animated work released in 2009 for its sheer innovation, ingenuity and imaginative scope as it's far easier to lose yourself in the work and even trick yourself into thinking these characters could be real over the most expertly designed CGI, irregardless of overall structure.
Yet, it's the structure and rather simplistic character driven plot that engages us throughout a work that one could argue – in addition to being simply a highly entertaining animated venture for audiences of all ages – also works as a successful, intellectually challenging allegory filled with subtext about foreign policy and our role overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, whether you view it as such or not, to quote Mr. Fox (George Clooney), it's one “cuss” of a good time as we meet the scheming dreamer after a near death experience prompts the chicken thief to reform into a little read columnist who shares his thoughts as a “Fox About Town.”
Despite promising his patient, morally strong wife (Meryl Streep) that he's gone straight for good, the father of an insecure son (Jason Schwartzman) who keeps struggling to live up to his father's larger than life image can't resist but put together one last big score – a triple header to raid the farm of local meanies Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (“one short, one fat, one lean”).
When predictably, he gets caught and brings trouble on the animals in his community and forces everyone underground to avoid the war with the farmers, Mr. Fox must bond together with his family and neighbors to come up with a way to get out of one “cluster cuss” of a mess.
In addition to Alexandre Desplat's whimsical original score, Fox is filled with a rollicking soundtrack and a refreshing decision to select one of The Beach Boys less famous yet still terrific tracks “Heroes and Villains” along with making great use of The Rolling Stones “Street Fighting Man” that helps offset some of the humor – both in dialogue and say, through the use of an old spaghetti western famous musical theme-- that no doubt will fly directly over the heads of youngsters who will appreciate the film on a more visceral level.
In a crisp transfer to high definition where speaker set-up adds infinitely to the experience given the unexpected music and dialogue, overall Fox stands as Anderson's most wholly successful work since the release of what I consider to be his masterpiece, Royal Tenenbaums (despite the fact that Bottle Rocket is the one I reach for the most).
And although it's essentially unheard of for actors to be recognized for their voice work, George Clooney's mischievous Mr. Fox feels like a true complimentary role to the one in Up in the Air which garnered the actor an Academy Award nomination. Unfairly, Anderson's opus was overlooked in the crush of remarkable animated films released in 2009 including Coraline (which shares crew with Fox), Ponyo, Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Princess and the Frog among others.
It's my hope that much like Bottle Rocket, Mr. Fox will earn something of a cult following on DVD and via this extraordinary Fox combo pack which serves it up on a whopping three formats including Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy.
However, until then and “in summation” as Fox might phrase it, with or without the subtext or the existentialism, you'll no doubt find this particular Fox as delightful and refreshing as cracking open one of Roald Dahl's classic books which comes alive in your head... perhaps in stellar stop-motion well worth “cussing” about.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.