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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

by Corinne Rizzo

Totally sophisticated in most of his characteristics, Mr. Fox finds himself living in nature’s version of the suburbs after spending the majority of his foxhood stealing poultry and looting cider from the local farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. In an effort to move up in the world and out of the fox hole his family began in, Mr. Fox buys a tree trunk for the family to move into—right across the valley from his old chicken thieving stomping grounds—and his old ways begin to haunt his instincts. The hardship of instinct versus the inclination to do what is right puts Mr. Fox, his family, and his friends in some compromising positions and Wes Anderson’s sixth film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (based on the original children’s text by Roald Dahl), not only tells the story of the secret lives of foxes, but builds yet another invitation only universe in which to entertain the endless details that create a classic Wes Anderson film.

So, Fox meets farmer, farmer has chickens, chickens get stolen, farmers get mad, Fox gets caught, farmer traces Fox to his residence, farmer does everything in his power to kill Fox.

This is the basic plot of Fantastic Mr. Fox, though if Wes Anderson has anything to do with it, the plot can be considered a bit more complex than that. In fact, Anderson makes it a habit in his films to show how complicated things can really become either by giving a character an inclination toward drawing maps or continually document, or expose early on in his films the tribulation that each of his characters bear. In The Royal Tenenbaums, for example, the audience is introduced to each character by Alec Baldwin’s monologue. The survey of personality traits gives the viewer all of the information that is needed to anticipate any combination of conflict between the characters, while in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson shows Mr. Fox himself as quite dexterous in the making of “master plans”.

The viewer is at that point given the essential plot out line and has become familiar with the players, leaving the imagination to begin piecing possibilities together, though you never can quite tell what Anderson has in store, even when the director gives you that essential information.

On that note, Fantastic Mr. Fox is complicated in plot and runs a good eighty-seven minutes, which is a whole lot longer than most want to sit through an animated film. Anderson’s twist on the story and the choice to use stop animation, though, is what drives the film. Voices like George Clooney, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman bring the familiar cynical tone to the characters that are popular in Anderson’s films, adding to the sophistication of the characters.

Important also to the film is the sense of humor these actors can bring to the characters. Often a scene that seems too sentimental or serious is broken by the true animalistic nature of each forest beast. Mr. Fox, wearing a suit with his hair all groomed does not hesitate to break a chicken’s neck with his teeth or growl and scratch when he doesn’t get along with someone. This is true for all of the characters and each one seems to have one of those moments in the film where they kind of just lose it and show what Mr. Fox calls the truth about himself, which is the fact that he is a wild animal.

The stop motion is incredible and crafty. Each creature has his own personae: Beaver, Beaver and Badger are attorneys, Kylie  (an opossum) is kind of like a superintendent, and so the list continues. But what is so stunning that the puppets are dressed to the nines, all throughout the film. Ash, Mr. Fox’s son, even wears layers and layers of clothes, all modified with holes for his tail and ears. The imagery is seamless and clean and the expressions of the characters are meaningful and distinct.

Everything from a toothy fox grin to the twitchy radar ears of a scavenger, Anderson and his stop motion team have taken a children’s story and mastered it into a film enjoyable to all ages. The tendency toward foul language is replaced simply by the word “cuss” and the only sign of alcohol or drug abuse is that of the Bean security rat living in a cider cellar, which is the cleanest we have seen Anderson yet, but also displaying some of his strongest creative moments.

Grade: A-


Top Five Reasons to Watch Fantastic Mr. Fox:

1)  Bill Murray plays a badger.

2)  You get a run through of every character’s latin animal names…so it’s educational.

3)  Really the whole film is about eating.

4)  The Beach Boys dominate the soundtrack.

5)  The film can be used as a gateway to exposing your family and friends to other Anderson films.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

by Corinne Rizzo

In Bottle Rocket, Anthony falls in love with Ines while swimming in the hotel pool, a pool that was the center of the hotel universe with multiple scenes shot in and around it. In Rushmore, Max plans to build Ms. Cross an aquarium the size of a baseball field and brings additions to the classroom aquariums in the meantime. The Royal Tenenbaums finds Margot in the bathtub for hours every day, while Ethylene practices archeology in the inner city. Similarly, Richie and Margot runaway to live in the public archives for a few weeks to get away from their family. The ocean, water and exploration are major themes in Wes Anderson’s films and in Anderson’s fourth film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the filmmaker displays an outward celebration of aquatic life and adventurism, themes Anderson has previously suppressed in earlier films.

Set on the Belefonte (Zissou’s research ship) , and subsequent island locales, Steve Zissou, played by Bill Murray (formerly Raleigh St. Claire), is an aging explorer bent on discovering the shark that killed his best friend Esteban, and rediscovering his edge as a documentary film star.

The film begins at a festival in honor of Team Zissou’s latest documentary in which it is revealed that Esteban has been consumed by an unrecognizable shark he names the Jaguar Shark. It is apparent that the documentary has fallen flat with the audience and in a fit of defeat, Steve swears to make his next documentary the one of exposing this new fish, hoping to regain his strength as an explorer.

During the after party for the documentary, Steve is approached by Ned Plimpton (played by Owen Wilson). Plimpton is at the wrap part y to meet his father, who he believes is Steve Zissou. Steve is unexpectedly warm toward Ned, soon offering him his own last name and suggesting he change his first one also, to Kingsly, what Steve says he would have named him, had he had a say.

The adventure ensues. A motley crew of characters, including Willem Dafoe, all wearing matching light blue uniforms with bright red skull caps, set off to find the shark. In the meantime, the Belefonte is pirated by strangers, Team Zissou breaks into the Hennessey laboratories (Captain Hennessey played by Jeff Goldblum), boats are blown up and three legged dogs are left behind. All lead by Zissou and all conquered as well.

Anderson’s depiction of the sea is magical in this film. It is not a dark scary place down in the depths like biology books would have one believe. It is a place of illumination and Anderson shows that in a very unique way. All sea and island life are clay-mation interjected into the film with neon color. Electric jellyfish, neon trout, Technicolor pony-fish, and even the jaguar shark himself are bright, vibrant creatures that illuminate the sea with a magic that displays an affection for the ocean and the wonder involved in exploration.

In the film, all colors are paired with their contrast, where there are blues there are yellows, where there are reds there are greens. Anderson does an awesome job at creating this world of discovery and adventure that harkens to classic marine biology documentaries one might have seen in middle school—colors heightened to show the viewer an image not witnessed before. Obviously inspired by the deep-sea creatures that illuminate their own way through the ocean and other phosphorescent life forms that glow.

The Life Aquatic is a film packed with sarcastic humor and an almost obligational form of love for exploration.  The relationships that evolve around a Steve, designated as delusional by his peers at the onset of the film, would be impossible without the situations he pulls everyone into. Bill Murray is a most excellent addition to Anderson’s films and his role as Steve Zissou can easily be touted as one of his best. The film mixes his lust for excitement with the reality of his apathy.

Featured also in The Life Aquatic is yet another musical journey set by Mark Mothersbaugh, complimented by Pele played by Seu Jorge, and David Bowie. The multiple renditions of Life on Mars, reminds the viewer that the ocean is a frontier, just like space and there is still so much to know. Wes Anderson in no way hits his peak with The Life Aquatic, but sure does give himself a run for his own money in his next film.

Grade: A

 

Top Five Reasons to Watch The Life Aquatic:

1) The colors. Did you know that Mark Mothersbaugh attended Kent State?

2) The music.

3) The adventure.

4) Willem Dafoe as Klaus!

5) The idea that life’s drama, highs and lows, can occur anywhere, even in the middle of nowhere.