Last night I saw a preview screening of Fantastic Mr. Fox at the Aero with a talkback by actors Jason Schwartzman, Wally Wolodarsky and producer Allison Abbate. I had seen some tweets calling the movie “meh” but personally I thought it was, well, fantastic.
It is, of course, thoroughly Wesandersonized, right down the whale of Mr. Fox’s corduroy suit. The comedy is that ‘medium funny’ type that improves upon reflection, not the belly-laughing kind. The art direction and composition is meticulous and a true joy to watch. There are the redundant little chapter titles.
This is the second script on which Anderson has collaborated with Noah Baumbach (the other was The Life Aquatic), and I think this one is far more successful in the sense that its vision of humanity (via animal-kind) is more optimistic and palatable for general audiences. In general, I think the pressure from 20th Century Fox to make Fox more commercial was good for the movie. It’s still wonderful in a Wes Anderson way — he didn’t compromise artistically — but also accessible to a wide audience, which it has to be to justify the reported $50M neg cost.
My memory of the Roald Dahl source material is sketchy, and I get the feeling that, like Where the Wild Things Are, this adaptation greatly expanded upon a short premise. I like the expansion. There’s an extended subplot about the rivalry between Mr. Fox’s son Ash (Schwartzman) and his cousin Kristofferson (played wonderfully by Wes Anderson’s brother, Eric Anderson). The side characters, such as Bill Murray’s badger lawyer and Owen Wilson’s mink(?) high school sport coach, were uniformly charming. Clooney and Streep are great in the leads, but it is Schwartzman, Eric Anderson and Wally Wolodarsky (as “Kylie,” Mr. Fox’s partner in crime who has zone-out spells) who steal the show.
The talkback didn’t add much new information that I hadn’t already gotten from The New Yorker‘s profile of Wes Anderson, but it was fun to hear from two of the best performers and an experienced animation producer.
The dialogue was recorded unconventionally for an animated film, with the cast running around at a location and somewhat performing the actions, rather than being recorded separately and statically in a sound booth.
Wally Wolodarsky told a great story about Bill Murray spontaneously volunteering to play “the wolf” — people who have seen the movie will know what I’m talking about. Most of the voice sessions weren’t recorded, but a producer happened to record the extraordinarily lupine performance by Murray on a cell-phone camera, and the animators used that for reference.
Schwartzman got asked about his relationship with Wes Anderson, and he told the story of how he and Wes bonded during his Rushmore audition, and how their friendship has grown over the years. It was actually a bit touching, because you get the sense that they really love each other and that they feel a responsibility to bring out the best in each other in their work.
Will children like Fantastic Mr. Fox? Who cares, they didn’t pay for the ticket. They certainly should like it — it’s magical and fun to watch. For those reasons, adults should like it too.