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Fantastic Mr. Fox


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Whoa, Steve, you just beat me to this. If it weren't for that rather demanding one-year-old of mine ...

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Sicisnki:

... This brings us to Anderson's latest film, and his very best to date. Need I say it? Wes Anderson's early signature style was predicated on using live actors as puppets, so this was sort of the film he was born to make. Add to this the decision to employ old-school, Rankin-Bass style claymation, and a few fascinating things occur. One, we find ourselves at an odd juncture of advanced and obsolete technology. The fact that Fantastic Mr. Fox largely eschews time-saving CGI and digital effects calls attention to the painstaking physicality of the world Anderson and his collaborators have created, but eventually we forget about this. But more significantly (and I think we could take a lesson from our old friend Walter Benjamin here), the revival of something dead or obsolete can and should transcend mere nostalgia. Doing claymation now, when Pixar and Dreamworks have computerized all of animation, has a meaning all its own. It is about flagrant expenditure of resources, the wasteful profligacy of the aesthetic realm. Just as Mr. Fox (George Clooney) leaves behind his life as a newspaper man to resume thievery, in order to feel alive again ("I'm a wild animal."), Anderson and crew are stealing studio funds to achieve something outrageous, meticulous, and beautiful. And ironically, this exacting, time-consuming approach, moving each "performer" millimeter by millimeter, has resulted in Anderson's freest work to date. When he was lining actors up against the wall, his control was absolute, his professional actors all too willing to comply. However, as Anderson dictates micro-movements to his animation team by remote, every aspect is slowed down to such a degree that Anderson must have discovered something between the frames that his previous efforts didn't provide: time between the frames. This time for consideration allowed for tiny shrugs, minute gestures, itty bitty throwaway gags, all enriching the final product. Anderson's decision to sculp with clay meant that he faced a material that resisted his whims, just by being its own inert "stuff." The slow food movement has been gaining international acceptance for well over a decade. But are we ready for "slow film"?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Sicisnki:

... This brings us to Anderson's latest film, and his very best to date. Need I say it? Wes Anderson's early signature style was predicated on using live actors as puppets, so this was sort of the film he was born to make.

This is particularly interesting. He does have a sort of ubermarionette aesthetic. I wonder how specific he gets with actors about delivery. It's interesting to note that Schwartzman has only been truly successful in Anderson-esque films.

Are we seeing a cinematic manifestation of Gordon Craig? If I am late to this connection I apologize, but its fascinating to me. I'll have to mull this over a bit more.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Has anyone else read the book (including the filmmakers). Doesn't look like it will stick that closely to the book, but it may well capture its anarchic spirit which is good enough for me. At least with Clooney in the lead.

Matt

This isn't my favorite Dahl, but a middling Dahl is still formidable. But I thought the film did capture the "anarchic" spirit extremely well. What an incredible film.

Here is what I liked about it:

1. Here is an Anderson film in which the quirkiness of his soundtracking was completely seamless. I think the music in Royal Tenenbaums adds a great deal to the richness of the film. The music in Life Aquatic is more fun than formally relevant. But the soundtrack of Fantastic Mr. Fox is every bit a part of its construction as any frame of the stop motion. The Stones track had me snickering with glee.

2. Excepting Bottle Rocket, Anderson likes to submerge most of the drama in his films beneath characterizations rather than letting it develop from the performance of characters. I don't think this is a bad thing at all, it is a play on structuralism that makes Anderson's aloofness endearing. We wouldn't like Royal in a more typical dramatic context, but through Anderson's detailed attention to over-realized gesture, we at least come to sympathize with him. Because his gestured emotions (sadness, regret, love) are so cookie-cutter, we don't have to muck around with deciphering his motivations.

But in Mr. Fox there is a fairly detailed set of nuances to each character. I didn't quite get Mr. Fox right away. It took some time to understand exactly what this spirit of anarchy in the film is all about. All the textures of the animation let us steep in the subtext until the larger, fantastical, and sweeter side of the story starts to emerge. It seemed an interesting change of pace in Anderson's storytelling.

3. There was a lot of complaint about how Anderson "dialed this one in." But I was continually impressed by the level of detail in pretty much every frame. There is a gripping sense of rhythm to all the long distance "shots" that is consistent with his other films. In fact, there were numerous places where I thought: If he filmed this in live action, he would have had the same exact camera placement or tracking. This was invigorating - to see animation that was so distinctly cinematic. I was very happy to have seen this after our discussion about the possibilty of animation becoming something that caters to auteurs. Chalk this one up as a possible example.

4. I am glad I didn't take my daughter to see this, as Anderson doesn't pull any punches with the darker parts of the story. There is a lot of violence that she would not have understood. The domestic dispute at the core of the film is complex, and typical for Dahl, very adult. Again, this entire script is no different than any of Anderson's other films. Even though it can be taken as another Clooney caper film (ugh), he winnows out the cliches.

PTC alluded to the affinities between this and Where the Wild Things Are in terms of content, and I think there is a lot to be said for that.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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In Where the Wild Things Are, Max is growing up. He begins to realize the folly of running off to rule a world, and comes to understand something about the burden of responsibility and the damage done by recklessness and rebelliousness. In order to make a world that will overcome sadness, they need to work together in community and outgrow their impulse to do whatever the hell they want.

In The Fantastic Mr. Fox... hmmm. I'm not sure yet exactly what it's saying. It may be doing something better than saying. It may be asking: How do we reconcile our aspirations to sophistication and maturity when we're such wild animals? Clearly, Fox is about human beings.

But doesn't it lean a little too heavily in the opposite direction, affirming and even celebrating FMFox's wildness and admiring him for it? Some folks are interpreting the "wildness" as merely symbolic of self-reliance. Fox's revelry in stealing and killing his prey seemed to be celebrated too vigorously for me to nod approvingly and say "That's right, think for yourself, man." Doesn't it say to the audience, "Come on, face it. You're a wild animal. Respect that, excuse yourself for those things society is trying to drive out of you. So you steal. So you kill. Go easy on yourself. You're just an animal."

I find this unsettling, and walked away from the film more aggravated by its themes than moved. (And I admit to dabbing away tears after both Tenenbaums and Zissou for the moments that revealed conscience and growth in characters that had seemed to full of themselves to learn.) Am I missing an evolution in Fox's character toward something greater? Isn't it just about jabbing us for the absurdity of civilization and affirming that familial bonds, carnivorous behavior, and the impulse to steal and break promises, are all just animal behavior that need no apology?

I feel so far from the enthusiasm I'm reading from others I respect that I wonder if maybe I just need to see it again. Sure, all of the praise for its technical achievement is deserved, and the moment with the wolf made me laugh for joy (and it's interesting to think about how that moment marks an intersection with Life Aquatic). But it's all in service of... what?

This movie should have had a song or two from Middle Cyclone in it; it's all about acknowledging the wildness in us (but then again, I think Neko is looking at wildness for the sake of exposing rather than encouraging us.)

I do think this is my favorite Jason Schwartzman performance so far, live-action or otherwise.

I don't wear contact lenses. But if someone gave me contacts that look like Possum's "out-of-service" stare, I'd wear 'em.

[uPDATE: FURTHER NOODLING...]

But I can't stop asking, Why wouldn't an anarchist embrace this film for how it romanticizes his decision to embrace the animal within? What if, as a boy, I sensed this film was telling me that if I follow my dad's reckless impulses, I'll be rewarded with some kind of badge of honor? It bothered me that Fox's son feels like he needs to accomplish some acrobatic criminal feat, that he wants to earn respect in his father's eyes as a rebel, and earn that "bandit hat." I thought it would be the father who learned something, who recognized the error in that paradigm. But no, the boy gets his chance, proves himself a rebel, and is rewarded. End of story.

Not my kind of story.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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In The Fantastic Mr. Fox... hmmm. I'm not sure yet exactly what it's saying. It may be doing something better than saying. It may be asking: How do we reconcile our aspirations to sophistication and maturity when we're such wild animals? Clearly, Fox is about human beings.

It is very Dahl in nature. In this and something like the BFG, for example, James and the Giant Peach works well too, Dahl seems big on saying: Things that exist to function in a specific way should be permitted to happily carry out their intended purpose, and this principle works for humans as well. In the stuffiness of his class stratified context, this kind of functional relativism is pretty radical. Dahl's literature shows us that if we are to be consistent with this principle, then there are times that crudity, anarchy, and adventurous abandon are going to feel natural, and that is because humans have faculties to enjoy these things in appropriate contexts. The BFG farts and burps. The things in the peach do whatever it is they do. Dahl's universe fully accepts these things as normal. Likewise, Fox is simply being consistent with something inherent to foxness, and he is fantastic at it. What I liked best about Mr. Fox are the wide shot dances. That kind of silly abandon took me straight back to afternoons with my nose in his books.

Been a long time since I read this book though. You raise a valid point. What does offest Fox's criminal nature is the equally criminal system that enabled these men to amass such wealth, hoard it, and grow into caricatures of their own crippling flaws. They are the upper class, they are out of touch with natural systems that persist right beneath their very estates. They are bloodthirsty. Etc...

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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What MLeary said.

Plus, as a stay-at-home dad who finds his range of activities much, much more limited than they were four years ago (or even two years ago), I found it very, very easy to relate to this story. There's a freedom, a "wildness", we discover in our teens and early 20s that is both exhilirating and valid, and it's perfectly normal and acceptable to mourn the loss of that "wildness" as other things take over. (Mrs. Fox's declaration of pregnancy in the opening scene was a perfect way to begin the film.) To focus literalistically or moralistically on the "crime" aspect of the story seems to miss the point, I think; the chicken-stealing is a metaphor for something else.

And while the stealing MIGHT be a problem -- paging Robin Hood, paging Robin Hood -- the killing is neither here nor there. That's what animals DO. It's what humans do to chickens, too. And, as the "anthropomorphic munchies" guy, I was thrilled to see that Fantastic Mr. Fox didn't try to sugercoat or shy away from this aspect of the foxes' nature.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 4 weeks later...
Wes Anderson's stop-motion acceptance speech from last night's NBR ceremony.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I think that is a tough call, but I would love to hear an animator's perspective on that. How much did Up do that other recent Pixar films haven't technically? But otherwise, the first 10-15 minutes of Up are a real treasure.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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  • 1 month later...

Finally got to see this and boy was it worth the wait. Haven't enjoyed a film so much for ages. And ages. Not even the slightest temptation to fall asleep.

It wasn't really Dahl: well and truly Anderson's film. But it was great. The stop motion animation had a wonderful feel that combined brilliantly with Anderson typical aesthetic. Hilarious, and very kid friendly for such an adult film.

Probably my favourite 2009 film so far (though I've not yet seen the blue film)

Matt

PS Oh and this from today's Guardian

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But I can't stop asking, Why wouldn't an anarchist embrace this film for how it romanticizes his decision to embrace the animal within? What if, as a boy, I sensed this film was telling me that if I follow my dad's reckless impulses, I'll be rewarded with some kind of badge of honor? It bothered me that Fox's son feels like he needs to accomplish some acrobatic criminal feat, that he wants to earn respect in his father's eyes as a rebel, and earn that "bandit hat." I thought it would be the father who learned something, who recognized the error in that paradigm. But no, the boy gets his chance, proves himself a rebel, and is rewarded. End of story.

Not my kind of story.

But, in the context of the fox's story, they are bandits. Its coming into its own--what else can a fox aspire to but to be a bandit?

I don't know that the only possible corollary is that Anderson is asking of us as humans is what do we do to reconcile the wildness within?

I suppose it could be asking, instead, what is it about human-ness have we given up on for comfort? Are we less human because of it?

The wolf, that light-house vision of the fox, is a powerful call to return to one's inherent nature--his creative purpose. What is the creative purpose for us?

I could go with that.

Edited by Buckeye Jones
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  • 2 months later...

It's also a call to locating that wild, individualistic nature in ourselves and using it in a collaborative, communal, constructive way -- each individual strength is made up of conflicting impulses, but we can locate individual strengths and work at getting out of a bad situation when we aid each other in community.

Love the last few posts here, btw.

I found the film to be a delight. I don't know what's wrong with me lately. First Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, then The Miracle Maker, now this. Mr. Fox doesn't quite live up to those first two for me, but it sits just underneath. Maybe one strike against it -- one thing that separates it from those, is that it is not a story you'd want to share with your (little) children. Only because the dialogue is a little out of their reach. I wouldn't worry about the fights or the carnivorous nature of the animals. That's the way the world works, and it's presented pretty well. In my situation, thinking about a seven and an almost-five year old, I just think they wouldn't be as interested in the dialogue, which is built on a more wry humor intended for adults.

It is definitely a film I will remember in four or five years, and aim to watch with my kids around that time. And I'm certain I'll have seen it a few more times before then, too.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I forgot to mention, and I don't think it's been mentioned here, that I loved the use of the word "cuss" in this film. I'm going to make that my new trademark. "What the cuss?" :)

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I forgot to mention, and I don't think it's been mentioned here, that I loved the use of the word "cuss" in this film. I'm going to make that my new trademark. "What the cuss?" :)

The cuss you are.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Are you cussing at me? :) heh

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Am I cussing you? I don't mean to... cuss you. ;)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 8 months later...

We introduced the kids to this 12 days ago and they LOVE it. Nina's been being Agnes, Digory's been assigned the role of Ash and Mel and I get to be Mr and Mrs Fantastic Mr Fox. I've also been listening to the soundtrack at we7 which is great. They. love. it.

And I kinda love it that they love it. It's certainly shored up the position of my favourite Wes Anderson film.

Regarding Jeff's comments which have kind of been on my mind of late, I think you overlook Mr Fox's development. He makes a massive mistake getting himself and all the other animals into trouble,. and it's not until he scraps his original speech and starts over that he's really begun to arrive. As for Ash being an athlete, or not, as the coach himself implies Ash is not up to his father's standard, whereas Kristofferson clearly is. It would be dishonest to pretend otherwise, but (the flawed) Mr Fox does encourage Ash as well. And I don't think Ash's actions were reckless or criminal. They were self-sacrificial and heroic.

Matt

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My wife got this from the library and watched it with the kids a few weeks ago. Then, last week, my daughter (who is 4; she turns 5 next month) saw it on the Netflix menu and started playing it while I was making dinner (it's scary how tech-savvy she's getting), and I figured I'd let her watch it with her brothers. My wife came home in the middle of the movie, and I had to leave as soon as she got back, but when I got home later, my wife told me that our 3-year-old boy, who had been a bit agitated while I was looking after the kids, calmed down after the movie was over. So my wife thinks our 3-year-old doesn't care for The Fantastic Mr. Fox. But the twins? Yeah, they seem to like it, all right.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 month later...

My 2-yr old woke us up at 3am shouting (at the top of his voice)

"That's just weak song writing. You wrote a bad song Petey"

(Actually I slept through it, but it sounds funnier the way I said it above).

Matt

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  • 6 months later...

Tyler wrote:

: The Fantastic Mr. Starfox.

Here, I presume, is the original video, for those who live outside the United States.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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