An animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book seemed an unlikely project for director Wes Anderson but it captures the charms of the source material and is likely to be his biggest box office hit.
However, he can’t let go of his wild instincts and regularly raids the chicken coops of the irate local farmers (Michael Gambon, Adrien Brody and Brian Cox) who declare war on him.
In some ways the film is a curious hybrid: a recognizable Anderson film with his usual kooks and quirks; an adaptation of a beloved book and a mainstream animated release from a major studio (appropriately enough, Fox).
Anderson’s films over the last decade have been the Hollywood equivalent of gourmet food – undeniably tasty but a bit too refined for mainstream tastes and sometimes too rich for even his admirers.
Since The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) his films have become too trapped within their own stylistic tics: British invasion soundtracks, privileged characters with parental issues, distinctive clothing, Kubrick-style fonts and so on.
Films like The Life Aquatic (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) have certainly above the Hollywood standard – and in places quite brilliant – but the sense of Anderson not quite taking his work to another level has been hard to shake off.
What makes Fantastic Mr Fox refreshing is that although it bears some of his stylistic trademarks, the switch to animation has given him a new lease of life.
Clocking in at just 89 minutes it moves briskly and has a nice, breezy attitude, embodied by the central character who remains coolly charming even in the most perilous situations.
There is a charm and simplicity to the central characters and – unlike some of Anderson’s recent creations – they feel more rounded and less like stylistic puppets, which is ironic given that they literally are puppets.
Schwartzmann’s voice over work is especially noteworthy, hitting a precise tone of innocence and weariness as a young fox trying to find himself in the world.
The original book was accompanied by the distinctive artwork of Quentin Blake and Anderson – and his creative team – have opted for their own bold approach, using stop motion animation instead of CGI.
The low-fi aesthetic reaps considerable dividends as it gives the characters and their surrounding world a distinctive visual flavour. The foxes especially look especially great in close up with their hair moving a bit like King Kong in the 1933 version.
There is the odd Anderson-style indulgence (watch out for a scene with a wolf) but these can be forgiven as the film works it’s magic and charm on a visual and emotional level.
Listen out too for some nicely off the wall musical choices which include: The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Burl Ives, Jarvis Cocker (who has a cameo) and some Ennio Morricone style musings.
It will be interesting to see how this plays with family audiences when it opens in a couple of weeks. Although based on a famous source, it has gags and references that may fly over the heads of younger audiences.
Despite that, it contains enough visual delights for audiences of all ages and may catch fire at the box office, especially in Britain where Roald Dahl is still very popular with a huge amount of readers.
It won’t do the same numbers as Up or Ice Age 3 but there is definitely potential here for some decent global box office.
Intriguingly, Anderson directed most of the film remotely from Paris whilst it was shot at Three Mills Studios in London, which perhaps demonstrates how technology is affecting what happens off screen as well as what we see on it.
Fantastic Mr Fox opened the London film festival tonight and goes on gneral release on October 23rd