Fantastic Mr. Fox

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From Bottle Rocket (1996) to The Darjeeling Limited (2007), filmmaker Wes Anderson was moving his aesthetic closer and closer to animation. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) is the first time that Anderson ventured into that cinematic medium and closed the door on the types of films that preceded it. From Fantastic Mr. Fox to The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and beyond Anderson’s films, live action or otherwise, owe more to animation than any other type of filmmaking.

The stop-motion animation and character designs in Fantastic Mr. Fox wear their influences on their sleeves. I’m not talking about the music cues lifted from Davy Crockett: King Of The Wild Frontier (1955) or Robin Hood (1973). The real inspiration for much of Fantastic Mr. Fox comes from the films of Yuri Norstein and Karel Zeman. These two filmmakers are giants in the world of stop-motion animation and Fantastic Mr. Fox is a kind of tribute to their tremendous talents.

For Fantastic Mr. Fox Anderson reunited with co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach for the first time since The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004). Baumbach brings his patented dry humor and nihilism to Anderson’s candy-colored world of escapist adventures, lending the proceedings an emotional frankness that is at odds with Anderson’s child-like innocence. Though Fantastic Mr. Fox, with all of its allusions to old Disney productions, looks like a family film it most certainly is not.

What’s frustrating about Fantastic Mr. Fox is that even though Anderson has finally transitioned to animation he has not embraced the immeasurable potential of imagination that the medium offers. The manner in which Anderson stages and blocks his scenes are hardly different than in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. It’s as if the director was unable to commit himself to the fluidity of image inherent to animation. The images Anderson offers the spectator are clearly derived from his early works with no improvements or variations implemented.

This isn’t to say that Fantastic Mr. Fox is without charm. In actuality Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably Anderson’s most engrossing bit of throw-away fluff since Bottle Rocket. The issue is that there is nothing new here. This tends to be Anderson’s greatest shortcoming. The brand comes before the quality of the content. And while the technical achievements of Anderson’s films are undeniable, they lack a deep emotional resonance and a sense of aesthetic progression.