You don’t dick about with Roald Dahl. Ever.
Years ago, Nic Roeg changed the end of The Witches, and the tinies were practically slashing the seats. So what the hell is Wes Anderson doing, injecting his deadpan wit and dysfunctional American family storylines into our children’s classic literature?
Surprisingly, something rather marvellous. In his hands, Dahl’s story becomes an engaging, stylish and quirky family drama, in which a suave, reformed chicken-stealer can’t resist raiding the bulging poultry and cider stores of farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean – whose revenge mission will endanger not only his family, but the entire woodland.
Think of it as a family-friendly Ocean’s Eleven, with a bit of Bottle Rocket’s boy’s own caper thrown in. Granted, Anderson gives the movie his trademark colour coding (a foxy, autumnal palette), while the Beach Boys and Rolling Stones incongruously amp up the action sequences. But oddly, it all meshes beautifully.
As producer Jeremy Dawson explains on the disc, Wes likes “being able to sculpt the image on every level” and stop-motion animation, with its defiantly handmade quality, is a great fit for his design fetish. The movie’s lovingly artisanal look and its retro, Cosgrove-Hall quality also works weirdly well with Anderson and Noah Baumbach’s cool, understated scripting.
Naturally, since we’re in Wes’ World, Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is having a midlife crisis (“How can a fox ever be happy without a chicken in its teeth?”), cousins Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and Kristofferson (Wes’ brother Eric Anderson) are jostling jealously, and there’s a blizzard of whimsical swearing (“What the cuss!”). But thanks to the tight timing and the scuttling chase narrative, it’s probably the director’s paciest, least indulgent movie yet.
And for all its blatant artifice, the performances have a naturalistic feel, particularly Clooney’s vulpine voicework as Mr Fox – so full of colour and nuance that it apparently made the animators raise their game accordingly. Proof of how game he and his castmates are comes in behind-thescenes footage that reveals how the actors recorded ‘for real’ on location, digging in dirt for that authentic wildlife on the run sound.
While the gags are smart rather than broad, there’s enough frantic physical comedy for the kids, while Schwartzman’s Ash, a surly cub struggling for his dad’s attention, delivers a hip and heartfelt lesson in finding your own strengths.
“We all have some kind of weird gift,” as he puts it. And that’s certainly true of Anderson – too weird to cross over, some might have said; yet he’s made his most mainstream film without sacrificing any of what makes Wes, Wes. Cunning…
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