Despite worrying that time and taste might affect her enjoyment of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, MaryKate Moran still finds the Roald Dahl adaptation a cussing delight.
I’m of the belief that adults need more play in their lives. More whimsy. We don’t need to take things less seriously, which seems to be the way this critique of grownups is often interpreted, but, just, maybe binge one less true crime podcast? One less grim, important with a capital I Golden Age TV show? This doesn’t mean disengaging from the news or living like Willy Wonka, but while life is serious and hard and often defeating, it is also fantastical and silly. All at the same damn time.
Then again, when I see adults publicly declare their love for something commonly considered childish or fanciful, I tell myself that I am above that. I’m too busy for such lighthearted things.
I also selectively use my own past love of a work of art as evidence that said art won’t hold up to my newer, more evolved tastes. Tastes that, every time I test this theory, I don’t have. Yet I hold to this idea.
All of this is to say that I’d seen Fantastic Mr. Fox exactly twice before this rewatch. This is stop-motion retelling of the Roald Dahl book of the same name—the first book director and co-writer Wes Anderson owned—and I assumed I would find it slightly too precious now. But nah, 10 years on, this movie is still a cussing delight.
I haven’t seen Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s other stop-motion film within the last 10 years, so I will not be making some understandably expected comparisons when talking about Fantastic in retrospect.
This movie still feels so richly textured, lived-in, and expansive, even while winking as its tightly controlled studio origins. In an industry that concentrates solely on box office returns, making the effort to create something as time-consuming as a stop-motion film seems quaint. Perhaps the very concept of filmmaking should fall away when watching a movie. But, by being stop-motion, Fantastic calls attention to its laborious behind-the-scenes machinations, which makes me appreciate this film that much more. (There are multiple making-of featurettes that I encourage you to watch; in one, it’s revealed that the actors actually recorded dialogue on location to increase authenticity—what was I saying about this film feeling lived-in?—and it took a full day of shooting just to get 30 seconds of film.) Some would deride this twee self-awareness a very Wes Anderson thing, but why is that bad? Action movies call attention to their falseness with every computer-rendered special effect anyway.
Plus, these voice performances bring a wonderful grounding to a world full of talking animals. I really appreciated the understated performances of Wallace Wolodarsky and Eric Anderson as Kylie and Kristofferson, respectively. And a besuited badger puppet shaking his head and saying, “In summation, I think you gotta just not do it, man,” in Bill Murray’s voice is a wonderfully incongruous thing to behold.
This is an animated movie that anyone can enjoy, but its charms are aimed at grownups. And if you are immune to it, you’re probably the type of person who needs this movie the most.
Besides, this is not about some kid learning about the world or going on an adventure. This is about a father coming to terms with who he really is; who he has to be to be a decent person/fox and what it is to feed one’s ego. Children can enjoy this movie, but they’ll like it so much more once they’ve lived a little. This is, after all, a movie where a stop-motion fox tells another stop-motion fox, “I love you, too. But I shouldn’t have married you.” Ouch!
But yeah, it’s still so charming! Take Ash, who induced a cuteness overload in me during this rewatch. There’s his fun physicality, like his salty scowl and twitchy ear. Plus, I saw some of my young self in Ash (his insistence on wearing a costume, placing a “Most Improved” trophy at the head of the dinner table to brag about his athletic prowess), but maybe I just love him because he really resembles my cat.
Speaking of character designs, that wolf! After foreshadowing its arrival in several scenes, the wolf’s arrival makes a moment of solidarity slightly stirring, largely hilarious, not to mention visually compelling. I have a distinct memory of watching this in theaters with three friends and we brought up our love of the wolf for days. Ten years on, it holds up.
It’s such a striking movie that I had to double-check what movie beat it out for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. I figured it would be something loud, Dreamworksy and forgettable. It was Up. So obviously I can’t say this movie was robbed, though I haven’t seen Up—refer to my opening paragraphs.
However, there is one thing I can’t celebrate here: It’s not surprising for a Wes Anderson movie (or movies in general), but I was struck by how few female characters are here. There’s Felicity Fox (Meryl freaking Streep), plus a fox who mostly exists to date Kristofferson and suffer Ash’s rudeness, and a bunny who is, of course, a secretary. There’s also Bean’s wife. I found myself thinking how odd it was to puzzle over this, but nevertheless, it was troubling that a movie populated by cute animals couldn’t even pass the Bechdel Test.
That’s really the only sour spot that comes up after all these years. There’s not a lot to critique, just a lot to love. The stop-motion makes it simultaneously old-fashioned and timeless. Kylie eyes when playing dead. The characters’ dance moves: herky-jerky when viewed individually but so festive as a whole. Jarvis Cocker playing a lookalike named Petey and singing a rollicking ballad while a newsman drums on a pumpkin. The fact that Clive Badger’s kid wears a skeleton Halloween costume for some reason. (If these are callbacks to the book, well, I haven’t read it.)
This is a perfect fall movie. The color palate is overwhelmingly autumnal, and even much of Mr. Fox’s booty (turkey, apple cider) is fall appropriate. If the horrors of adult life and the world as a whole are getting to you lately, and how could they not, you probably owe yourself to take two hours and watch this movie. Go, do it right now. The real world will still be here when you’re done.
— MaryKate Moran