5 Year Retrospective: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox is five years old this fall, but with Grand Budapest Hotel releasing this week it feels appropriate to discuss how well Wes Anderson’s animated adventure has aged in such a short time.
Zac: Just a couple weeks ago, Fantastic Mr. Fox became the first animated film to enter the Criterion Collection and it is certainly a film with a worthy enough caliber to deserve that distinction. Though, the first time I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox my feelings weren’t as warm towards the film as they are now. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the film, but (like most of Anderson’s films) the first viewing is a primer to further enjoying the film on subsequent viewings. Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom were all Anderson films that I really liked on first viewing, but (like Fantastic Mr. Fox) took multiple viewings for me to fall into the love category; and I love all of Wes Anderson’s film.
What Fantastic Mr. Fox has done over these five short years is to, quite possibly, become my favorite Wes Anderson film. I might even go as far as to say that it might be my favorite film from the last five years, period. I ranked Fantastic Mr. Fox behind two other films the year it came out and it has easily surpassed Moon to somewhere right next to Pixar’s Up. There is no film that I have popped into my Blu-ray player more than Fantastic Mr. Fox since its release and I happily paid for it a second time to own that Criterion edition of the film.
Up is Fantastic Mr. Fox’s closest competitor for my “Best Film of the Past 5 Years” and while Pete Docter & Bob Peterson’s film is most definitely a more emotional and affecting experience, the joy, humor and silliness of Anderson’s film fills me with a feeling that few other pictures do. So Grant I ask you, how has Fantastic Mr. Fox resonated with you and am I out of line holding this film as highly as I do; in Anderson’s catalog and in general?
Grant: Wow, I quote Nicolas Cage as I say “high praise, indeed.” I can see how it is so re-watchable for you, the dialogue is snappy and the soundtrack is amazing. These are both Wes Anderson trademarks, but unlike many of his films, Fantastic Mr. Fox might not have a dull moment in the entire film. How the hell did he do that? Along with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, it is in my top three Wes Anderson films. So yes, I believe you are justified calling it your favorite Wes Anderson film.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson’s most purely comedic film. And it is hilarious. But that’s not enough when I compare it to some of my favorites. I do think the film has a well-constructed message regarding the balance between our natural instincts and our commitments. However, for me, that’s not enough to break into the upper-echelon. Up is just one of the many great films from the past five years based around a dramatic or thought-provoking message. I just can’t put Fantastic Mr. Fox on the same level as Black Swan, Life of Pi, Midnight in Paris, Scott Pilgrim, etc.
Zac: Life of Pi! “High praise, indeed.” I know it seems a bit ludicrous, but I can’t deny my feelings, Grant! The film has so much going for it and it looks like nothing else out there. Yeah, there have been other stop-motion films released in recent years, but Anderson gives his film a tactile feeling that makes it feel alive in a way that no other animated features do. The world feels lived in and the medium lets Anderson manipulate every element of the frame to his delight. Anderson’s films are so layered in live action form and Fantastic Mr. Fox’s meticulous design allows it to be even more so. Everytime I watch the film I am picking up on new little details in both the sets and the characters and the low-fi nature of it all has endless charm.
The cast is also incredible, from Mr. Fox to Microtus Pennsylvanicus, as George Clooney leads the way in this spirited work from, mostly, a group Wes Anderson’s friends. I think the recording style on the film also lends itself to the uniqueness of the picture, as much of the dialogue was recorded together and while actively acting out animal acts. This is in stark contrast to the usual routine on animated films where actors act in a recording booth without other actors, and this also helped make the film feel more alive than many of its contemporaries.
What stands out for you on the film and how do you fathom that this can be so criminally underseen as it is (least watched Anderson film besides Bottle Rocket).
Grant: Hey, if you don’t like Life of Pi you can go ‘cuss’ yourself. But we can talk about that some other time.
So this is one of Wes Anderson’s least seen films, eh? Maybe that’s because casual moviegoers might have thought it was a children’s film. Ironically the people that consider his movies too weird or quirky would probably enjoy Fantastic Mr. Fox more than his other films. I believe I pointed this out when the film came out, but the stop motion animation is perfect for Anderson’s imaginative universe. Moviegoers may be more willing to accept outlandish behavior from an animal puppet, than they would a real person. Anderson also included many jokes that took advantage of the animation style. And yes, I give the animators tons of credit for spending hours forming cotton wisps to animate each cloud of smoke.
As for the cast, everyone does great, but I think it is safe to say the Kylie the possum steals the show. He kills me: the confused stares, Blueberry written on his hand, and “the signal.” I love it!
It’s been well established how much you love Fantastic Mr. Fox, but do you have any critiques of the film?
Zac: I really like Life of Pi, I just don’t put it with those other films. I’ll take All is Lost over Pi by a hair.
Kylie might be my favorite Anderson creation. He is right up there with Mr. Fox, Max Fischer, Herman Blume, Eli Cash, Klaus and M. Gustave as my favorite characters from Anderson’s films.
As for criticisms, I don’t know. Nothing more than nitpicking, but it would probably revolve around just maybe getting a bit more of an emotional hook in there. The film isn’t all fun and games, it actually gets pretty dark before the end and Mr. Fox certainly goes through some stuff, but it never achieves that emotional hook that Up does.
Maybe this is the point, and part of me feels like Anderson’s goal isn’t to drastically move you in any of his films. Anderson almost always deflects or passes over big emotional moments in favor of humor, and if anyone does break out into big emotions it is most often for laughs. His approach to death in this and his other films is so blunt and he rarely tries to tell you how to feel. His characters are often stoic in the face of death and they almost never have a strong emotional reaction, so does that mean we aren’t supposed to either?
Grant: Well, take for example Moonrise Kingdom. The movie isn’t nearly as good as Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the climax had a major emotional payoff. *Spoiler Alert* Characters that were previously obstacles suddenly became essential parts of the team helping the protagonist find a place in the world before he faces certain death. The ‘it takes a village’ message really worked for me. *Spoiler Alert End* The suicide attempt in Royal Tenenbaums was probably Anderson’s most powerful, Wilson’s face was stoic, but the eyes say it all. So yes, it seems we agree that the lack of strong emotional or thought-provoking moments is what holds Fantastic Mr. Fox back.
There is one scene in Fantastic Mr. Fox that stands out. The wolf scene features a mysterious exchange that could be interpreted different ways. Apparently Anderson was pressured to remove the scene from the film, but he refused stating that the wolf scene is the reason he made the movie. I see the wolf representing Mr. Fox’s wild side, and when the wolf leaves, Mr. Fox realizes that he is no longer a wild animal. I really liked the scene, but it didn’t blow me away. Any thoughts on the scene?
Zac: “Pensez-vous que l’hiver sera rude? I’m asking if he thinks we’re in for a hard winter.” That scene is perfection in all of its implications and mystery.
And I wasn’t trying to imply that Anderson’s films are devoid of all feeling, I have plenty of feelings watching his films, but the feelings he wants you to have are rarely what his characters are feeling. Mr. Fox’s emotions rarely meet that rule though, as he is one of the few Anderson protagonists we aren’t supposed to laugh at. His worry for Ash and Kristofferson is palpable, his anger with Rat is warranted and his shame is certainly felt through the screen. The film hits the emotional highs it is shooting for.
Grant: Well, I didn’t quite make those types of emotional connections with Mr. Fox, but he is definitely a hilarious Anderson protagonist.
Zac: He is, and I get to hear him every day when you send me a text message as my alert tone is his trademark whistle. I also have firmly adopted Mr. Fox’s “Where’d I park” through his teeth any time something awkward happens in my life. I think I might be obsessed. Though, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong in crowning this as a great movie.