A delightful name for a delightful film - based on an equally captivating book written by the late great Roald Dahl who has invented stories to both terrify and enrapture children in equal parts. It is no wonder, therefore, that the film adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox is by Wes Anderson – the director of tragi-comedic dramas that dwell nostalgically on the beauty and horrors of childhood.
For anyone familiar with the Wes Anderson film prototype, Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) will come as a welcome but slightly different addition to his already beloved collection of films. While it does contain elements of The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) such as the hyper-articulate, uber-neurotic, winsome and whimsical Tenenbaum children emulated in the animated forms of Mr and Mrs Fox's son Ash and their nephew Kristofferson – it is a much less angst filled reworking of the usual Anderson themes of sibling rivalry, the indescribably strong, and sometimes warped, bonds between brother and brother (or sister), and parental absence.
As with every amazing animated feature (e.g. Up, The Incredibles), Fantastic Mr Fox is as much for adults as for children, though in this particular case the adults might enjoy the wry, fast talking humour more than children under 10. For anyone unfamiliar with the book, the film revolves around the family of Mr and Mrs Fox played by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. If you think things can't get any better than the aforementioned pairing, we also have the voices of Michael Gambon as Franklin Bean (of Boggis, Bunce and Bean from whom Mr Fox decides to steal chickens, ducks and apple cider as a last hurrah to his days of thievery before he married Mrs Fox), Willem Dafoe as "Rat", the terrifying, blade carrying creature that guards one of the warehouses, Bill Murray as "Badger", Mr Fox's cautious friend and lawyer, Owen Wilson as "Coach Skip" who teaches the boys to play the incredibly complicated game of "Whack Bat" which comes in handy later during one of the Fox family escapades, Jason Schwartzman as "Ash", the pouty, misunderstood son of the glorious Mr Fox, and last but not least Jarvis Cocker as "Petey" the folk singing (of course) character whose puppet was sketched entirely around the real Jarvis Cocker's physical attributes.
The technical aspect of making stop motion animation film is mind-boggling: the puppets, the sets, the frame by frame detail, the fun in being able to make the smoke from a fire out of cotton wool and manipulate it so that it looks like anything but cotton wool. This is a kind of film that is made with such loving care and detail that one hopes there could be a weekly installation of the (mis)-adventures of the Fantastic Fox family complete with all the idiosyncratic gestures that each of these characters have, their sounds, their teeth, the hair, the perfect little costumes etc.
Watching the film with its wonderfully detailed sets and the hilariously entertaining cast of characters and their antics is just one of the rewards of Mr Fox. It is more than just an entertaining film (though it is that) because it has the special ability to bring even hardened, grumpy, work-addled adults back to their days of marching off with just a tiffin box and their unruly younger brothers or sisters in tow in search of a great adventure with only their imaginations as guides.
All DVDs reviewed in this column are available at: Music and Expression, Thamel, Phone # 014700092