An­i­mated about Dahl, in a good way

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

You could be for­given for be­liev­ing that we live in a golden age of an­i­mated film. only two weeks af­ter the release of dis­ney’s Up, Twen­ti­eth cen­tury Fox has brought us Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox, Wes An­der­son’s ex­traor­di­nary adap­ta­tion of the clas­sic chil­dren’s story by Roald dahl.

Vis­ually and tech­no­log­i­cally the two films could hardly be more dif­fer­ent. Where Up achieves its gor­geously shaded ef­fects us­ing the lat­est com­puter wiz­ardry, Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox is a hand-made labour of love us­ing “stop­mo­tion” tech­niques and beau­ti­fully crafted pup­pets.

For some rea­son Bri­tain has long been the home of some of the best­known stop-mo­tion tal­ent, in­clud­ing the clay an­i­ma­tor Nick Park who made the Wal­lace and Gromit films. Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox fea­tures the labour-in­ten­sive but re­mark­ably ex­pres­sive cre­ations of Ian McKinnon and Peter Saun­ders.

It is di­rec­tor An­der­son’s first an­i­mated film — he is known for quirky adult come­dies like Rush­more and The Royal Te­nen­baums — and he has re­tained most of the el­e­ments of dahl’s orig­i­nal story, while adding some new char­ac­ters and the kind of fam­ily con­flict that forms the core of all his live-action films. There are times when the story is al­most over­whelmed by the lat­ter, though there is some­thing charm­ing about the way the Foxes so re­sem­ble the dys­func­tional, well-ed­u­cated Brook­lyn fam­i­lies in pre­vi­ous films by An­der­son and co-writer Noah Baum­bach.

Ge­orge clooney voices Mr Fox as a mid­dle-aged jour­nal­ist who has bought an ex­pen­sive tree house for his wife (Meryl Streep) and grumpy son Ash (Ja­son Schwartz­man), and who misses his old life of steal­ing chick­ens. like so many fa­ther-fig­ures in An­der­son’s films he is charm­ing but deeply flawed. When he de­cides to do one last big job, steal­ing from all three of the lo­cal hu­man farm­ers, Bog­gis, Bunce, and Bean, with

5/11/08 the help of opos­sum pal Kylie (Wal­lace

clooney is per­fectly cast as Mr Fox, thought he stand-out per­for­mance, and per­haps the stand-out char­ac­ter of the film, is the vil­lain­ous, South­ern-ac­cented Rat as voiced by Willem dafoe.

How­ever, Meryl Streep’s Mrs Fox comes a close sec­ond. It is a re­mark­able thing when film­mak­ers can make an an­i­mal pup­pet some­how sexy, but the com­bi­na­tion of de­sign, move­ment and Meryl Streep’s voice (the rich­ness of which is much more ap­par­ent when you can­not see the ac­tress) makes Mrs Fox al­most dis­turbingly de­sir­able.

Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox is not quite as sat­is­fy­ing a story as Up. Its adult el­e­ments, though even more prom­i­nent than those in the dis­ney/Pixar film, are more whim­si­cal and less heart­felt. like An­der­son’s other wry works, it is stud­ded with pop-cul­ture and film-buff ref- er­ences and can feel like a mas­ter­ful but self-con­scious ex­er­cise in hip­ster style.

There is me­lan­choly here, but it does not al­ways feel earned or an­chored in ex­pe­ri­ence. That said, there are mo­ments, such as when you see Mr Fox eat his toast with the sav­age glut­tony of a real wild fox, that are sim­ply bril­liant. My per­sonal favourite scene fea­tured a hi­lar­i­ously com­pli­cated game called Whack­bat, a clever spoof on cricket as seen by an Amer­i­can, ex­plained to young Ash by coach Skip (played by An­der­son’s fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor and fel­low Texan, owen Wil­son).

Though at one point Brian cox as the TV jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing the farm­ers’ siege of the Fox’s hill does sounds oddly like the re­porters cov­er­ing Gaza, there is no trace in the film of dahl’s un­apolo­getic an­tisemitism.

Ge­orge Clooney, voic­ing Mr Fox, heads an all-star cast in­clud­ing Meryl Streep, in an an­i­mated ver­sion of Roald Dahl’s chil­dren’s story

jonAthAn FoRe­mAn

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