Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fantastic Mr. Fox

2009, PG, 87 min.
IMDB says... An urbane fox cannot resist returning to his farm raiding ways and then must help his community survive the farmers' retaliation.

The 73rd Virgin says... Haven't read the book or seen any previous Wes Anderson movies. This is really funny and it operates out in the delicate dangerous waters of whimsy and quirkiness where so many self-referential comedies have sunk. There are several scenes that would be funny even with limited visuals and live actors, just based on the dialogue, but are equally funny just based on the visuals, which are simple-looking sets, stop motion puppets, and I assume some CGI.

George Clooney voices Mr. Fox like you'd expect as a charming manipulator. He gets the town tart (Streep) pregnant and agrees to give up chicken stealing to become a newspaper columnist. Mr. Fox is feeling poor and decides to buy a nicer hole under a tree over the objections of his wife and his lawyer Mr. Badger (Bill Murray). Badger describes the three villainous farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean who live across the valley. The funniest whimsical bits come when these urbane sit-com families suddenly become wild animals.

The Foxs' son Ash has adequacy issues exacerbated by his father's realistic assessment of Ash's skills, made worse by the arrival of his cousin Kristofferson. Kristofferson knows karate and practices yoga and meditation. Mrs. Fox paints landscapes laden with doomy thunderstorms.

To pay for his new digs Mr. Fox and his possum side-kick Kylie go back to stealing birds from the farmers. Mr. Fox laces blueberries with sleeping pills to knock out the guard beagles. This scene caused consternation among some Netflix commenters who deemed it inappropriate for young children due to chicken necks being chewed.

Sheesh. I'm surprised there are no complaints about the drugs. If your young co-viewers can't handle a chicken's neck being chewed, well...get them some help.

Boggis, Bunce and Bean try shooting at Mr. Fox and digging him out by hand. In the first of several funny scenes between Bean and his assistant Petey, they bring in the heavy metal, but the foxes and their other subterranean friends begin digging under all three farms. Michael Gambon is a hoot as the efficiently murderous Bean. Jarvis Cocker voices Petey.

Finally cornered, Mr. Fox hatches a plan with all the animals for escape and revenge. Several scenes near the end are funny for reasons I don't even understand, including these where he identifies the animals by their Latin names and unique talents, and meets a mysterious wolf while a lone soprano intones over the scene.

Maybe there are a few parts that are too obscure and talky for an average 8-year-old, but the visuals are consistently funny and it does head into emotional areas within the Fox family that most kids will recognize. It's no more challenging than "Up" or "The Incredibles", really, and it's almost as good.

One might expect an ultra-hip film experience to include obscure musical references. Instead there is familiar 60s pop from the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones along with Burl Ives and others. Houston native Anderson then chooses the almost forgotten classic, "Let Her Dance", by the pride of Baytown, Texas, the Bobby Fuller Four, to run over the credits. Like the whole movie, it's unexpected and charming.

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