Saturday, May 24, 2014

26. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)


{in this exact clip, he actually says the film's title!}

Code-name: Whackbat



Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: (book) Roald Dahl, (screenplay) Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Type: book-to-movie adaptation, animated, dramedy

Cast:
Mr. Fox- George Clooney
Felicity Fox- Meryl Streep
Ash- Jason Schwartzman
Kristofferson- Eric Anderson (Wes's brother)
Badger- Bill Murray
Kylie the Possum- Wally Wolodarksy
Coach Skip- Owen Wilson
Agnes- Juman Malouf
Rabbit- Mario Batali
Boggis- Robin Hurlstone
Bunce- Hugo Guinness
Bean- Michael Gambon
Rat- Williem Dafoe
Petey- Jarvis Cocker

Notable Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Animated Film
OSCAR- Best Original Score- Alexandre Desplat (another frequent collaborator of Wes Anderson's)
Golden Globe- Best Animated Film

Write-up:

INTRODUCTION

According to my other blog, I first saw this movie on Cinemax in October of 2010 and these were my first "in-a-nutshell" thoughts.

As for “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” George Clooney does not disappoint. The movie was not necessarily my cup of tea, but the edginess of it, including the animation won me over. It fascinates and captivates at the same time. The humor derives from some new jokes that haven’t been overclich├ęd and there are some old jokes in there that have been heard in other movies. In a word, I say its charming.

Charming and incredibly quirky.

I've come into other Wes Anderson movies expecting the same thing. So far, only "The Grand Budapest Hotel" delivered on that. As I might have stated previously, if there was any humor in "The Royal Tenenbaums," it was lost on me... and "Moonrise Kingdom" could have been better if it wasn't taken so seriously with the "Romeo & Juliet"-esque storyline.

Is it silly to expect the same thing in every movie an actor or director does?
Yes, but that's just how I roll.

When I first became aware of this movie, I didn't know what to think. It seemed so different on the animation alone, but since it got good reviews, I had to check it out.

Anyone who read my reviews for "She's out of my league" and "Easy A" knows how I saw lots of movies in 2010 and my favorites were the ones with the most unique writing.
It might have gotten to a point with me where I'd seen so many movies that I was getting sick of their predictability. Luckily, I came across gems like this one that kept me engaged in this medium.

PLOT

Back in the day, Mr. Fox was all about the danger of being a wild animal, stealing various fowl from farmers. But when he and his wife find themselves in a fox trap, he obeys her wish to give up this life for a less hazardous one.

Fast-forward 2 years (12 fox years) later:
He writes a newspaper column, she paints thunderstorm-laden landscapes for a hobby and their son Ash aspires to be an athlete.

Mr. Fox moves his family to a large oak tree at, in his view, an ideal location. It happens to have easy access to three notorious farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean.
Just for the heck of it, he and his new partner-in-crime Kylie break into the farms night after night to steal chickens, ducks, geese and squab ("whatever they are"). Ultimately, this gives way to some pretty dramatic consequences for the Foxes and the other animals.

The animals struggle to survive. Mr. Fox's marriage gets rocky. Ash deals with some growing pains including dealing with the arrival of his "perfect" yet humble cousin Kristofferson. And the animals give the farmers their comeuppance.

All the while, despite all the drama, hilarity ensues whenever the cracks allow. Which is pretty often ;)

CHARACTERS and ACTORS

We're talking an all-star cast here. Not surprisingly, Wes Anderson has his favorites. Bill Murray obviously. At least one Wilson brother (Owen Wilson is practically a cameo but it's a great one). Jason Schwartzman, who first worked with Wes Anderson in "Rushmore" (another film I gotta see for him and the writer/director).

Willem Dafoe played the psychotic rat that guards Mr. Bean's alcoholic "tastes like melted gold" cider, making a pretty good secondary villain. But I'm not sure anyone caught onto the fact it was him doing the voice. I certainly didn't and I was thinking during "The Grand Budapest Hotel" that it was his first time working with Wes Anderson. Plays a really good villain in that too ;)

Then there're the big guns of Clooney and Streep and Gambon.

In the right context, I love Meryl Streep. But I'm not the biggest fan when it comes to awards season and when she's cast because moviemakers believe they need a name as big as hers to give their project credibility. (Trust me, when "The Giver" comes out, I will be vocal about casting her... among several other things because it's my favorite book).

Michael Gambon plays "possibly the scariest man currently living" Mr. Bean, which is an interesting contrast to the role I will forever associate him with... Professor Dumbledore.
Sure, on looks alone, Richard Harris will always be the Dumbledore I picture when I re-read the books, but you see one actor play the same role over a decade... that stuff sticks with you :-P

Of course, last but not least is George Clooney.
I could care less that he plays the same character in every movie (particularly ones like this, "Ocean's 11" and "The Monuments Men" where he leads heist operations), he's always so pleasant to watch. He's the only actor I can confidently consider a "movie star" because he's a class act and a really nice guy.

Nobody else could play the incorrigible Mr. Fox as good as him. Not in a million years :-P

THE ATHLETE

All of these characters have their faults. Second only to the Fantastic Mr. Fox himself is his son, Ash.

My memory has faded over the years that've passed, but I'm convinced that I stuck through this movie because I'm very partial to that name. My first love, who first inspired me to write, had that name.

I don't know why I find Ash such a compelling character. Maybe it's all about Jason Schwartzman's voice, how he was so perfect as this character. This was my first encounter with him. I've been known to follow actors around like a lost puppy when I fall in love with their voices (Haley Joel Osment is the biggest example of that for me). Oddly enough, so far the movies I've found him in (Scott Pilgrim, The Grand Budapest Hotel) were purely coincidental 8-)

Either way, yeah, he's rude, but I loved his insistence of his athletic status when all but one final scene showed otherwise. (The final scene was the best pay-off this movie has, at least in my book).

Also love this set of dialogue and how he ends it.

Felicity: we all know what it's like to be... different
Ash: but I'm not different. Am I?
Felicity: we all are. Him especially (points to Mr. Fox) but there's something fantastic about that, isn't there? (leaves)
Ash: hmm, not to me, I prefer to be an athlete

(when the situation calls for it, I always love quoting that final line... yeah, I am a total nerd)

On the other hand, we have Kristofferson. He's staying with the Foxes because his father (Felicity's brother) is suffering from double pneumonia. In a short time, Ash takes a strong disliking to him. Particularly when he unassumingly captures the affections of Agnes, another fox at their school, but most notably when he shows him up in gym class;

WHACK-BAT

This is my favorite scene in this movie.
1) because it stars Owen Wilson as the school coach
2) it has great dialogue ("that's the first time that kid has ever swung a whack bat?")
3) the sport itself

Throughout our trip to Sydney, Australia, which was a couple months after I saw this movie, I couldn't help but think of "whack bat" whenever we were trying to discern the mystery of cricket. One dude we met at a pub tried to explain it to us, but his speech was unintelligible after all the drinks he had.

I still don't get whack-bat, but I find it so intriguing. This is the only dialogue we have to go on:
"Basically, there's three grabbers, three taggers, five twig runners, and a player at Whackbat. Center tagger lights a pine cone and chucks it over the basket and the whack-batter tries to hit the cedar stick off the cross rock. Then the twig runners dash back and forth until the pine cone burns out and the umpire calls hotbox. Finally, you count up however many score-downs it adds up to and divide that by nine."

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

If it's not random quotes, its entire scenes that make me geek-out when I watch this movie because I find them oddly compelling.
The greatest example is when Mr. Fox is delegating tasks to the other animals, calling them by their Latin names. So many random answers. Like Badger says he's a demolitions' expert. And how he enthusiastically shakes weasel, rattles off his Latin name while he responds "Stop yelling!"

There are a dozen great scenes that are just full of laughs, varying from ha-ha funny to slow-burn laughs you have to think about.

Or just running gags.

Like every now and then, Kylie gets the "psycho" look in his eyes where his pupils are the shape of spirals :-P it's even funnier when Mr. Fox gets it after running away from a beagle suffering from Rabies in one of the latter scenes.
Or the ransom notes (where the letters are cut out from magazines to "hide" identities of the letter writers) where the characters break the fourth wall just to get us to laugh.
Or when Mr. Fox has his trademark click and whistle and Kylie asks about it during the final mission to rescue Kristofferson and get back at the farmers. Then later on tries to establish his own trademark and kinda fails at it, lol
Or how they use the word "cuss" whenever they're spewing profanities because it keeps the movie PG. Every now and then, I will use the word "cuss" in my writing for that reason alone. My favorite "cuss" scene is where Mr. Fox and the Badger go at it after Badger says "the cuss you are" and Mr. Fox responds "The cuss am I?"

One oddly cool moment is where Mr. Fox confronts his phobia of wolves (which he brings up a couple times before hand) when he comes across one. There's no dialogue exchanged (at least not by the wolf), but both of them raise their hands in the air out of respect for one another.

It's all about the quirky details and subtle moments with this movie. The way I see it, you either go crazy for it or you just don't get it. But if you're open to something different, this is definitely a good movie to get into.

COMING SOON

Don't know how many people read my previous entry, but forgetting my place in my countdown, I gave away I had another Downey film coming up.

Not just because this particular movie is great in its own right and not just because he actually won something for it (yep, I just gave it away right there, lol), but because the impact it had on me was pretty substantial.

All the more reason to one day aspire to do a "6 degrees of Downey" entry (take that, Kevin Bacon!) where I go into the amazing people and things that might not have been on my radar had it not been for his involvement.

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