Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): A Fun Tale of Finding Freedom Through Struggles

Fantastic Mr. Fox

     “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is in no way the best of Wes Anderson’s work…but like all of his works it is a lot of fun and has some pretty amazing characters. There aren’t many characters in it, but the characters who do have arcs get the time and attention they deserve that shows just how complex they are as well as giving some great threats to face as they are all forced to grow.

      The film was directed by Wes Anderson who was also one of the producers and screenplay writers. The other writer was Noah Baumbach and the other producers were Allison Abbate, Scott Rudin and Jeremy Dawson. The story came from the same Roald Dahl book of the same name, which I hope to read.

     The premise follows the story of Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) getting caught in a fox trap where Mr. Fox learns she is pregnant. She makes him promise if they escape to give up stealing food which he agrees to. They settle down in the Tree that is close to three dangerous farmers and are raising their son Ash as Mr. Fox begins to get back into the stealing business with their neighbor Kylie Opossum which gets more complicated when Ash’s cousin Kristofferson arrives making Ash feel like even more of an outcast as he is rejected by his father who pulls Kristofferson into his stealing plots. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Production – Everything is miniatures and is done with stop motion animation making the film really unique and cool as the animals move like animals and it gives an organic reality to it you would be more hard pressed to find it was done with animation or cgi.

The Script – Wes Anderson’s script is quick and witty and he does a good job paying tribute to Roahl Dahl as there is a dark survivalist undercurrent through the script and the characters are all reckless in different ways as the war with the farmers gets more intense.

The Soundtrack – Alexandre Desplat does a fantastic job with this soundtrack and gives the world a very lived in feel while paying tribute to bluegrass and country which fit with the survival themes of the film.

Badger – Badger is voiced by Bill Murray and is Mr. Fox’s lawyer and he is the one who should have been listened to. He was right about how dangerous the house in the tree was by being close to the farmers and because he was listened to (and his client Mr. Fox harassed the farmers) he and the rest of the forest creatures became refugees. He holds Mr. Fox accountable and like Felicity forces Mr. Fox to take action to right the wrongs he did by his selfish actions.

Kylie Opossum – Is voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky and is one of the folks who sees the big picture in a lot of ways. He has a credit card and good credit, he is happy in his life but is pulled into Mr. Fox’s schemes because he above all else is a follower looking for identity and fun. In the end he finds both as he comes up with his catchphrase (like Mr. Fox’s whistle and wink) and dances with all at the end.

Ash – Ash is played by Jason Shwartzman and is a disgruntled teen through most of the film. His arc is accepting that he is different as he glares and spits a lot but he learns from his mom Felicity that weird runs in their family and when he makes peace with that he is able to accept responsibility in regards to how cruel he was out of jealousy to Kristofferson. His arc is the most solid as when he accepts himself he is able to have a relationship with everyone else around him and shows that it is the strange stuff about us that are part of what make us who we are.

Kristofferson – Kristofferson is one of my favorite characters. He is a calm, talented fox who does yoga who Mr. Fox adopts as a son by pulling him into his schemes. Kristofferson clearly feels grateful as he eventually gets caught by the farmers and used as bate to catch Mr. Fox. He makes peace with Ash as the end and teaches him to meditate. He doesn’t really have an arc but is mostly put together (more so than Mr. Fox) so others learn from his cool. He was voiced by Eric Anderson.

Felicity – Mr Fox’s wife Felicity is the character who is just as reckless as him until she is pregnant with Ash. We learn she always had that risk taking in her though and see that she sees beyond herself more easily than Mr. Fox as she cares for the forest refugees and pulls Mr. Fox out of himself to where he sees the consequences of his actions and works harder to care for others because of it. I really liked her character and Meryl Streep is fantastic.

Mr. Fox – George Clooney owns this role as his addiction to the thrill of the hunt and experiencing great food and drink lead him into trouble. He is a good person at his core but extremely selfish as the farmers were minding their own business until he began stealing from them again. He justifies it initially as he is a wild animal but when he’s reminded he’s also a father and husband he gets his act together and works on making the refugees a home. His arc is getting outside of himself and he eventually gets that as others risk for him forcing him in turn to risk for others.

Okay: Agnes – Is the fox love interest of Kristofferson who makes Ash jealous. She exists mostly as a plot device and isn’t much of a character sadly beyond supporting Kristofferson and eventually becoming friends with Ash.

The Other Minor Characters – There are Otters and Rabbits and a few other creatures who are mostly background. They have great design but aren’t memorable as characters, they aren’t bad either for what it is worth.

The Cons: The Farmers – The farmers are a good threat but they aren’t all that complicated. They are just defending their property and going to great extremes to do so. The fact that they aren’t complicated is one of the things I didn’t like as they weren’t super memorable and could be interchanged with any farmer threat in a film that follows the story of forest creatures…and they are as complex as their last names (Bean, Boggis and Bunce).

    This was an extremely fun film and my second time watching it. My favorite parts were the interactions between Ash and Kristofferson and Mr. Fox and everyone as he is a selfish guy who creates most of the conflict in the first place, and realizes it so much of his arc is trying to make amends. There are constant consequences and there aren’t really any happy endings…it’s bittersweet as the animals are living in the sewers now and the three farmers are still seeking their destruction, but it has hope. Part of what I always like about Wes Anderson films is how bittersweet they are as well as fun and this film captures both those things beautifully. If you like Wes Anderson, chances are you will like this film.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

The Giver (2014): Bland Leads but Decent Adaptation

The_Giver_poster

The Giver is one of my favorite books from childhood, and the one that introduced me to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre. The story is introspective and reflective and reveals the horrors of the community very slowly. Lois Lowry is a master of the rising tension and the book does so really well. The movie is different. Here is a good article on the differences between the film and book: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/08/18/the_giver_movie_s_differences_from_the_book_how_it_compares_to_the_lois.html

“The Giver” film had quite a few people on board with it’s creation. From three producers (Jeff Bridges, Nikki Silver, Neil Koenigsburg) two screenplay writers (Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide) but thankfully only one director (much more and I could see this film lacking any coherence), Phillip Noyce.

The basic plot is still the same as the book. After the Great War, in 2048 a community is founded where there are no colors and emotions and the world is one of sameness. It is here our protagonist Jonas is introduced and is assigned the role of the Receiver and to eventually become the Giver (the one who holds all the emotions and memories of the past and present). Jonas finds things slowly getting complicated for him as the illusions of his world break down and he is faced with the Community is missing in it’s sameness. The story continues from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Giver – Jeff Bridges plays the Giver and he does an amazing job. We get to see the details of his backstory, such as his daughter Rosemary and the guilt he feels at giving her the memories of a child lost (euthanized) and how it is common in their world to keep the population in check. We see that he had a relationship with The Chief Elder (played by Meryl Streep) and they have a great debate at the end on the value of emotion in which the Giver advocates for love against Streep’s fight for stability. It is a great scene that should have happened much earlier in the film. He is really what makes the film interesting and he does a great job as The Giver, than again I have never seen Jeff Bridges do a bad job, so this is more of his fantasticness.

The Chief Elder – In the book you don’t see her at all, and I wish we hadn’t had her get so involved this time. Streep is great, but her being so intrusive gay Jonas no reason to stay. She was not really good at giving people a desire to serve and want, which is a shame cause we get moments where she is like that. Still a great character, even if I’d have preferred her as force of nature or background force that doesn’t need to give orders…like in the book (The Elders).

When it’s Black and White – In the book there is not any color and for much of the film, and whenever we get the perspective of a community member, the film is filmed in black and white. I loved that and wish they’d kept it the entire time except for sparing moments. When it got all colorful the fact that it looks like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and every other Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Film became apparent. The black and white it what set it apart and part of what made the book so unique.

Gabriel – This baby is awesome! It cries at all the right moments and has some fantastic moments of awe and sorrow when Jonas has escaped. It was one tough baby and managed to be and feel how it was supposed to in all the different scenes. That is a feat in and of itself.

The Red Sled – The part of the book with the red sled is handled well, from Jonas’s first time having the memory of one to finding the house with the family and going down to meet them on the red sled with the baby Gabriel. I loved both those scenes.

Okay: Futuristic – The town is very futuristic, which didn’t quite lend itself to making the movie feel unique. There were drones, which are in every sci. fi. nowadays…at least the sparceness of the Home Units fit with the feel of the community and the injections were a neat update, instead of pills.

Jonas’s family – His Mom is the one who conforms, his Dad cares for and euthanizes children and his sister is represented as hope as she enjoys the joy he shares with her and remembers the thing he tells Gabriel, the baby their father takes in to try and save by giving more time.

Cons: The Three Leads – The first mistake was making a love triangle, I think they chose to though because the three leads cannot act, at all. Like it is pretty bad whenever they are on screen. So love triangle at leads adds drama to what for the most part is wooden acting.

Fiona – She just goes along with whatever Jonas wants for the most part and rebels even though she has no real experience with it. Her love doesn’t quite feel believable too and it’s not just because she hasn’t known it, Jonas’s family does alright in acting…she feels to flat, and nothing she does feels believable.

Asher – He is the friend who becomes a tool and decides to save Jonas because…reasons. He has a permanent scowl and when they say he’s the joker he isn’t funny. They should have got one of the Weasley twins for this role cause this guy didn’t cut it. His friendship ending didn’t feel real because it felt like it was never there, which made him protecting Jonas feel alien.

Jonas – What do you do when your lead has a blank expression for most of the movie? He has some good moments where he is excited with the Giver, but everything else felt so artificial. He was not the right person to choose for the lead. I really wanted to like his character, like I did in the books…but he was so bland that it was hard to form any sort of attachment. The scenes with the Giver only worked because it was Jeff Bridges who can carry a scene on his own. This was sad since this could have been Brenton Thwaites breakout role…though that goes for the other two teenage leads as well.

The Magic Emotion Wall – There is a magic emotion wall that once Jonas passes with Gabriel will give everyone back their emotions. It is a giant magic Mcguffin. I would have preferred the book ending honestly, in this they turn it into a revolution when before there wasn’t a way to reach anyone, people chose to be how they were in the end. This that is taken away and it is much more like a police state (drones and all) and the magic mcguffin wall gives an easy out. Also having them use to save Fiona who becomes his girlfriend in this was an easy play on emotion. It gives the happy ending to a book and story that is best left ambiguous. Jonas even says in the voiceover he has no idea if he’ll be returning back to the community. That would have been a good way to end it. Let people wonder if Jonas’s leaving prompted the beginning of change.

The Lack of Introspection – As seen by the Magic Emotion Wall Mcguffin and the Chief Elder arresting the Giver and Fiona because they helped Jonas escaped showed a major lack of introspection. Again, the people chose to be slaves in the books, it was comfortable, whenever Jonas introduced ideas people went away from him, he was the outsider who saw the truth of the world. Here anyone can know the truth after Jonas shows them something and passes the Magic Wall. Life isn’t that simple and especially a society formed after a great war should be much more entrenched in it’s ways that have worked for generations. This easy out cheapened the plot and made the problems above much more obvious and apparent.

This was an adaptation of one of my favorite novels that’s potential was not fully realized. It played with cool ideas that happened in the book (World in black and white, the red sled) but it needed better young actors and actresses for the leads and The Giver and The Chief Elder better functioned as influences than major characters directing events. It took away the choice of slavery in the books and gave us easy to consume tyranny, which honestly is used way too often in young apocalyptic fiction nowadays. Tyranny should be subtle and ignorance a choice…like in the book. So, would I recommend it?

I will say yes, though it is not nearly as good as the book (seriously, read the book) it is a good adaptation that is carried by Streep and Bridges. Giving them a lot of screentime, though it hurt how the story was shown us, strengthened the movie as a whole, cause the leads were terrible.

My final Score for this film is 7 / 10. Decent adaptation, worth it for the Chief Elder, Giver and the moments where it is true to the book.