Roald Dahl was a big part of my childhood reading. His stories, particularly the Revloting Rhymes
along with the The Twits
, always kept me interested and giggling with childish delight. They were fantastic children's stories and, prior to JK Rowling, were the only massive successes, critically and commercially, in the children's book market. Fantastic Mr. Fox
is one of his best remembered and most loved children's works.
Of course this isn't the first Dahl book to get a stop-motion treatment, there was of course James and the Giant Peach
way back in 1996. However, this new one is co-written and directed by Wes Anderson
There are several problems with foreign directors or writers take on projects from a different culture to their own; sometimes they miss the point of the book. Sometimes they miss the tone. Sometimes they just plain ignore the original work in favour of what they can come up with. For those of you wondering Anderson doesn't screw it up totally.
With a cast including George Clooney
, Meryl Streep
, Owen Wilson
, and Bill Murray
, you would think there wouldn't be half as much of problem. However, there is a clear Hollywood influence in the way these positions were cast. All the heroes are American, all the bad guys are English (with the exception of Michael Gambon
though he does have an English accent). As such it does feel a little odd for this British tale, about the British countryside, to be populated by Yanks. As such some of the old charm is lost and the film doesn't burrow its way into your heart in the way the book did and continues to do. It struck me afterwards that Aardman Animation
could have done wonders with this story.
The stop motion is fantastic and beautifully animated. The backdrops look great and the movement of fur in the close-ups is good (though clumps of fur jump around awkwardly from time to time). The film also maintains a steady pace and a solid amount of Anderson humour throughout. Should you find yourself bored at any point you won't be waiting long until the action picks up. As for the music? Well, there is music, though nothing stands out. In essence it suits the scenes with out becoming its own entity. It neither hurts the film or makes it stand out to any degree. Added to this is the action, of which there is quite a bit, is fun and really picks up the pace. Ultimately the style is superb, but on to the substance.
For those of you wondering, the film does diverge from the book massively. The Fox family have a son, and a nephew. And there is about twenty minutes of story added to the film to make up the running time. To be fair however this never sticks out in tone or quality from the rest of the story (since the story itself has been so heavily altered by Anderson). The film is an adaptation of the book, this is true, however Anderson seems to miss what made the book so special. Yes yes, I know it's unfair to compare book to film, but really my main gripe with this film is that it takes a fantastic (I'm truly sorry for using this adjective) children's story and turns into the film which can't really be enjoyed by kids. The humour is extremely whimsical and at no point will any of it make most adults laugh after the film is done, let alone any kids who haven't followed Anderson's filmography.
On top of this most of the charm is lost in the film, as Anderson tries so hard to make you feel for characters who're ultimately quite two-dimensional. Mr. Fox, for example, is a man/fox trying to give up "who he is" (A wild animal) in order to be responsible for his family and not get them killed which he almost manages to on very many occasions. His 'journey' doesn't lead anywhere and could just as easily been left out. Simple, lovable characters from the books are given more complex stories which in many ways undermine the feel of the story. One of the few parts which ultimately worked for me was the rivalry between Fox's underwhelming and underappreciate son Ash and his cousin Kritofferson which gets much better writing and is much more satisfying. However this is the B story of the film, and doesn't quite redeem it.
Wes Anderson fans will more than likely love this film, and most adults who've grown up on less mainstream comedies (ie. 'quirky') will get a kick out of it too, but for everyone else this film is very, very average. In a year which contains animated films such as UP
, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
, and The Legend of Kells
this film will quickly be forgotten. If you're anything like myself you'll leave the cinema fairly entertained but quickly forgetting the entire thing. It'll work much better at home where you can relax more and drift along with the irreverant humour. To sum it up in one stock, clichéd phrase: style more than substance.
Talk to ya later!