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DVD Review: "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"

By It's My Life on April 5, 2010 5:37 PM | No TrackBacks

Mr. Fox is a husband, a father, and a man (no, wait...a fox) trying to eke out a good living in a hard world. But he's also a wild animal who can't help stealing chickens (and lots of other stuff), and this is what gets him into trouble. You see, Mr. Fox has enemies...three of them to be exact: mean, violent farmers named Boggis, Bunce and Bean. These angry old guys are tired of Mr. Fox cleaning them out of food and drink, and they'll stop at nothing to put an end to the fox's thievery, and his life.

fox_dvd.jpgBased on the classic children's book by Roald Dahl (according to your You Said It posts, a lot of you are fans), this film version of Mr. Fox's adventures was directed by Wes Anderson, who's made a career out of delivering artsy, melancholy movies, like "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." Here he takes his trademark quirky moodiness and mixes it into a colorful, kooky tale of talking animals, way-too-complex sports, zany heists, and lots and lots of tunnel-digging. Sound strange? Well, it is.

Here's the thing: Although "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is packaged like a little kids' movie, it really isn't. Sure, it's fun, and often funny, but it's also bittersweet and thoughtful, and occasionally slow-moving. There's even some dialogue that seems too mature to be in a talking animal movie and will probably go over the heads of the youngest viewers. So will a lot of other stuff in this unique film.

Okay, now for the part you've come to expect from IML movie reviews: our breakdown of the good and the not-so-good.

We Liked:

The animation. This movie was made with stop-motion animation, a very old and very amazing process where  real honest-to-gosh puppets are moved by hand, inch-by-inch, and photographed one frame of film at a time. If you're a fan of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" you know what we're talking about; It's the same way they made all those great old holiday TV specials, like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." In this era of 3-D computer animation, it's great to see a filmmaker go old school, and we're truly impressed with the results. Mr. Fox just looks incredible; you can see the fur on the characters' faces move with each frame, and can enjoy every tiny detail in the miniature props, costumes, and sets. Sure, the movements aren't always smooth, but that's part of the fun, fun, fun.

fantasticmrfox.jpgThe design. Did we mention that this movie looks great? Well, a lot of that is due to the overall design of the visuals, from the look of Badger's impressive flint mine home, to Fox's cozy abode beneath the giant tree, to the hard industrial metal of the bad guys' farms and storehouses. We wish we could shrink ourselves down and play in this carefully-built world.

The voices. Wes Anderson uses his usual gang of actors to voice the characters in Mr. Fox, including Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray. And they don't deliver typical goofy or over-the-top cartoon voices, either. They read the lines like they were doing a regular drama, and this creates a very unique tone. It's sometimes a bit disconcerting, but mostly we like it.

The weird little moments. This movie slows down to offer up some odd but sweet moments, like when Fox stops his motorcycle escape to talk to a wild wolf, or when Fox and his wife have a philosophical heart-to-heart  talk in front of a shimmering below-ground waterfall. There's a lot of quiet beauty in this movie.

Ash. Mr. Fox's son, who wants to be an athlete but is usually seen as a loser, is our favorite character. Lacking the raw talent and bravado of his dad (or even of his cousin Kristofferson), Ash is determined to prove himself worthy. Also, he wears a sock on his head, which is awesome.

Whack-Bat. The weirdest sport in the world!

We Didn't Like:

The bait-and-switch. What do we mean by this? Well, we mean that "Mr. Fox" was promoted as a kids' movie, but it really isn't, and lots of little kids will be bored by it. (So this is probably not something you want to watch with your babysitting charges.) You see, this is one of those movies that Hollywood considers "difficult to sell" to isn't an adult movie, and it isn't really a kids' movie ("Where the Wild Things Are" is an even better example of this). So to make sure people come to the theater, the studios sometimes fib in their marketing strategy, and make a movie look like something it isn't. It's a shame, because "Mr. Fox" is a cool movie for older kids and tweens,  and they should have admitted this up front.

The scene with the guitar. What the heck is this scene? Who is this "Petey" guy singing this song? Out-of-place bits like this seem here to entertain the director, not the people watching the movie, even if the song is kinda catchy.

The artiness. We know, we know. We kinda already said that we liked this. But we also didn't like it. How is this possible? Well, sometimes this movie just seems like it's trying too hard to be the filmmakers are winking at the audience and saying, "Look how cool and smart and hip we are." There are moments when it gets to be a bit much, and we're forced to roll our eyes.

If you like movies like "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and "Where the Wild Things Are," you'll probably enjoy "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" (and you might want to check out "Rushmore" for more cool Wes Anderson-ness). If your tastes run more to "Transformers" or "Ice Age 3," you'll probably be bored.

IML's rating: B

"The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor. The DVD extras include several interesting "making of" pieces that will be especially interesting to anyone who's into animation, art, and design.

That's IML's take. What do you think? Did you see this movie? Do you want to? Did you read the book? Let us know! We want to hear from you!

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