January 03, 2010

MOVIES: Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)

Wes Anderson is, notoriously, something of a control freak as a director, particularly with the look of his sets and costumes. So you can understand why stop-motion animation would appeal to him. Everything has to be made from scratch, and you never have to settle for filming in a room where the wallpaper isn't quite what you wanted. Heck, you even get to have perfect control over the movements and physical "performance" of your cast.

And Anderson has assembled a top-notch cast of actors to provide the voices for his characters. George Clooney is Mr. Fox, whose raids on the local farmers are becoming increasingly dangerous. Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) wishes he would slow down and take fewer chances, but as Mr. Fox reminds her, "I'm a wild animal." Their son, Ash (Jason Schwarzman, giving a listless, bland performance) is an insecure wreck with a massive inferiority complex that's only made worse when golden-boy cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) comes to stay with the family. Also doing fine work in smaller roles are Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.

Those local farmers (who are British, oddly enough, though all of the animal voices are distinctly American) eventually get so fed up with Fox's raids that they destroy his home, and the rest of the movie finds Fox and his animal pals out to get their revenge.

The story's entertaining enough, though it sags in the last act, as the plotting against the farmers drags on and on. The real problem, though, is the clunkiness of the animation. There have been a lot of advances in stop-motion in recent years -- look at the quality of the Wallace and Gromit films, for instance -- but this movie is choppier than the Rankin-Bass TV specials of 40 years ago. All the painstaking attention to detail that makes the look of the movie so appealing is wasted because it's just so painful to watch such badly done animation. A serious disappointment.

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