Friday, 13 March 2015

Fantastic Mr. Fox Is Fantastically Foxy

Wes Anderson is a director who was always destined to make an animated film. It was inevitable, like the rising of the sun in the morning or the deadly adorable cat video apocalypse which will engulf us all. He is a director whose sensibilities are uniquely suited for the minutia and attention to detail required in a animated movie.

The fact he made a stop motion animated movie doesn't surprise me in the least since it totally fits in the staged nature of his previous and subsequent films, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now, Wes Anderson has a pretty specific cinematic vision and his filmography is comprised of quirky offbeat movies with quirky offbeat characters doing offbeat quirky things.

Look how offbeat they are, shaving together. Quirky.

But even more so than the quirky offbeatness of his character, the fictional worlds in Wes Anderson's films feel like they only could exist inside the shared fictional universe of Wes Anderson's films.

Each film's narrative has a strong storybook feel divided into chapters with a story, that ostentatiously following a typical three-act structure, often has scenes which exist solely for the characters to interact and create some sort of dramatic or humorous altercation rather than move the plot forward.

Okay, so I noted his films follow the typical three-act structure, but that is only in the sense that there is a situation the protagonist is introduced to, the conflict he has to deal with, and a climax in which the conflict is ultimately resolved.

Conflict!

However, because of the different chapters, the mundane nature of the situation his protagonists typically face, and the aforementioned focus on character interaction, not to mention often laconic pacing, his narratives often just waffle along, taking their time.

The chapters themselves serve to punctuate the narrative by introducing a new element to the plot or for the characters to come in contact with, whether it is the arrival of a new character, a change of the season, some plot device, or the fallout from the interaction between characters in the previous chapter.

This kinda breaks the narrative up, making it seem less tied to a three-act structure and more like a book than a movie.

The fact his movies often have characters reading from books with the same title as the movie is pure coincidence though.

So it makes sense that he would make a film adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved children's book considering how much his movies feel like books with their storybook narratives. Also, their use of literary framing devices such as omniscient narrators and chapters mean that his cinematic sensibilities are uniquely suited to adapt one of the most storybook books ever storied in a book.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the first books I ever remember feeling proud to have read when I was a child. That was because I was around 7 or 8 years old when I read it and it was supposedly for a higher reading level than my age at the time, so I felt smart having read it then.

Today, I no longer feel smart for having read it but that's only because I've read Alan Moore's From Hell since then and I'm still trying to figure out everything that goes on in that tome of a comic.

You see, the Masonic architecture of London directly relates to the Jack the Ripper killings... for some reason.

Another reason why Anderson needed to adapt Fantastic Mr. Fox is purely for the director's own benefit. For his movies are heavily stylised, which led to criticisms that his films were a bit standoffish, more concerned with seeming cool and detached than creating relatable characters or a compelling story. And while there might be some merit to that criticism, I have to respectfully say anyone who makes that criticism is silly. Like, really silly but I digress.

That said, what was great about Fantastic Mr. Fox is that is a warm book. Its story is so homespun and welcoming, it's as though it was expressively written for fathers or mothers to read to their children at bedtime. Furthermore, its characters are so memorable and full of personality, lending a real charm to the story

While they may be simple characters that simplicity isn't because they're one dimensional. Rather it's because they are distilled to their basic characteristics in order to resonate with children, and in that regard they completely succeed.

Not to mention the villains have the catchiest bad guy theme song ever.

The fact these characters are already so warm, no one could accuse Anderson of writing cool or detached characters. In fact, Anderson had the utmost respect for Dahl's creations and took those basic characteristics, added his signature witty dialogue and snappy remarks, and fleshed out the characters while still being utterly faithful to their personalities.

The result is that film is littered with a group of critters and individuals you want to spend more time with and really hope they succeed. For example, Mr. Fox is incredibly clever and can think a way out of any situation, but he seems to be going through a mid-life crisis, allowing his own arrogance and cleverness to get him in the situations he find himself in.

So it makes all the sense that he is voice by George Clooney. Clooney has the most debonair and confident voice, all sophistication and flirtation. He literally has the perfect inflection in his voice to get across the somewhat overly confident, near arrogant, yet playful tone needed to convey a character like Mr. Fox.

It's like he already was a (silver) fox.

Now, the thing that really made Anderson a director that always seemed destined to make an animated film is his relentless perfection and precise attention to detail. Anderson always frames his film expertly and delicately, with everything in the frame perfect.

Everything in the mis-en-scene (which is pretentious for "stuff in the shot") is meant to be exactly where it is. Most stills from his films look like staged photographs they're so precise. Nothing is out of place or off-centre. Everything is used to frame the characters in an almost dollhouse-like environment.

Sometimes it totally is a dollhouse, like this scene where Bill Murray's character Steve Zissou tells you about his boat.


That glorious tracking shot, coupled with the voice over narration by Murray, perfectly illustrate why this man was the most perfect choice to direct a stop motion animated movie based on Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. His sense of framing and place are superb, characters move in and out of shot on cue, each set is exquisitely precise and detailed, nothing is left to chance.

Also, it feels two dimensional in a way, and that is not a criticism. Actually in this context, it's an absolute compliment. He really seems to be going for that storybook feel, not only in his whimsical chapter ridden narratives, but also in the visual aesthetic of his films.

Which again is why deciding to do a stop motion animated version of Dahl's book makes so much goddamn sense I actually used the word goddamn. Of course, Anderson would make it stop motion so he had control over every minute detail down to a tee.

But also so he could pretend he was a giant and yell, "Now dance for me, my puppets. Dance!"

I haven't even got into the inventive fictional game Whack-Bat which is like baseball, but you know, amazing (any game is improved by adding a flaming pine-cone) or the interesting rivalry between Mr. Fox's son, Ash (voiced to sarcastic perfection by Jason Schwartzman), and his cousin Kristofferson, or the fact Bill Murray is a badger.

Yes, Bill Murray is a badger in this movie. What are you still doing reading this? Go watch it already.


References:

Wes Anderson Wikipedia page

Rushmore (film) Wikipedia page

Mis-en-scene and Cinematography in The Royal Tenebaums

Mise En Scène & The Visual Themes of Wes Anderson

Fantastic Mr. Fox Wikipedia page

Fantastic Mr. Fox Rotten Tomatoes page

About Me

My photo

This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

I also write stuff online.