Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cussing Good Time

What a phenomenal challenge for a director it must be to adapt a very distinct voice while adding your own particular voice to it. What a delight it must be one succeeds at it so spectacularly. Such is the case with Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. Despite reports of a very tumultuous work environment Anderson and his masterful collabrators in the field of stop-motion have made a stunning world filled with great visual enchantment.
Anderson has always had a designer's eye, where even the most minute detail of books, board games, posters and utensils is properly framed and place in every room. Orson Welles once described movie-making as playing in "the world's greatest model train set" and Anderson is the sort who has given a great deal of consideration to his set's landscape. Anderson and his crew have created a breath-taking world for Mr. Fox, his family, friends and enemies to inhabit. Though if the film were just eye-candy it would not be nearly as satisfying. What Anderson has managed to capture is Mr Fox's beguiling wickedness and amorality. He never for a moment lets us forget that these are animals who are bound to unleash their inner-beastly natures no matter how well-tailored heir tweed or attempts at honest living. Dahl's work is peppered with such encouragement toward mischief and craftiness and that has been well ported into the film.
Helping this abounding sense of craftiness is the astute casting of George Clooney, the modern age's best movie star as well as a great actor. Clooney is no stranger to playing scoundrels and rascals and his most boffo box-office has come from playing the oh-so-slick Danny Ocean so just hearing his voice coming from the Mr. Fox stop-motion figure gives the character his chops. Anderson does equally well in casting voice talent whose voice make perfect signifiers for what their character is all about. Meryl Streep as a moral centered Mrs. Fox, Jason Schwartzman (easily the highlight) as the mopey emo son, Ash, Bill Murray as a cantankerous Badger and Michael Gambon as the surly leader of the evil farmers. Oh, I mustn't forget my personal favorite Willem Dafoe as a former compatriot of Mr. Fox who now works for the farmers. He's a knife wielding loony who moves like a West Side Story dancer accompanied by a scintillating bit of score by Alexandre Desplat channeling Ennio Moricone. Its these sort of oddball details that make each of the characters memorable and not just disposable would-be merchandise opportunities for a studio.
Indeed the film retains a creation of independent spirit. It mocks the popular children's film convention of advocating the bizarre and odd-ball. When Mrs. Fox tells Ash "Everyone is a little different" he flatly denies her "I don't want to be different." In a way the film succeeds in a way that Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are doesn't. Anderson has created a film based on a childrens' book that specifically appeals to adults but can be enjoyed by anyone, whereas I'd hard pressed to think of a child who could enjoy or appreciate Jonze film (which I would favorably describe as a Bergman film covered in fur with a blood transfusion from Jackass). Anderson has created a film full of charms to delight the senses for young and old.

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