Monday, January 10, 2011

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) was released on DVD this week, and cable television is showing Mr. Fox as video on demand, another format that lets viewers pause the film or replay scenes.

Wes Anderson has crammed so much visual information into every scene of Fantastic Mr. Fox that it's easy to make the case that the DVD or video on demand experience of Mr. Fox is even better than the experience of watching it on the big screen. Watching Mr. Fox in real time, you get the Richard Scarry feel of it, but until you freeze a frame, it's impossible to see all of the detail that's working to make Mr. Fox easily the most original visual experience among last year's films.

There are cave drawings from the Altimira cave on the walls of the foxes' cave; strange books in Bean's kitchen. The long, traveling shot through Badger's Flint-Mine is too rich to take in all at once. The drawings of tunnels and sewers are like treasure maps, and Mrs. Fox's landscapes are wonderfully complex.

Anderson added characters and scenes to Roald Dahl's book to get the story of Mr. Fox up to feature film length. And that, unfortunately, is where Anderson stumbles. Too often, Anderson's story seems contrived and lacking in irony. Mr. Fox protests that he loves his son just the way he is, but when the young fox finally succeeds, it's on his father's terms, not his own. And Mr. Fox's realization that he's not the center of the universe is a disappointing trope.

But though he stumbles, Anderson does not fall. He finds redemption in the ending of his film, where up is down, in is out, and the happy ending turns out to be more dismal than it seems.  Dahl's animals only end up stuck underground; Anderson's end up stuck in a supermarket.

Anderson's Mr. Fox thinks he's wild, but, in the most poignant moment of the film, Anderson lets us see how domesticated Mr. Fox really is by showing us powerful images of a wild wolf -- the only truly free animal in the film.

No comments: