Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox ★★½

In the past, I've said I've hated Wes Anderson. I hated how he refused to do anything outside of the stylized box he built for himself, and I hated how limiting it felt. Even watching his films, I felt like his style prevented him from ever saying anything of depth. I thought Moonrise Kingdom was the best, although I had not seen Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

After last year's stellar Isle of Dogs and finally watching watching Rushmore, however, I began to wonder if I was wrong about Anderson. I thought the former was an accomplishment of animation, and if Paddington 2 hadn't also been released last year, it would've been one of the best animated movies I saw in 2018. The later film, though an obvious early effort with obvious early career flaws, felt like the film I'd always been looking for from Anderson - it actually said something beyond style. Since Fox is his most acclaimed, it seemed like the best fit line between these two films I found myself adoring.

Well, here I am, back at hating Wes Anderson.

Okay, I don't hate him. The animation is fluid and gorgeous to watch. The dialogue - especially the one-liners - are really sharp. And if this was meant to be a kid's movie, then I'd say it is a paramount of success.

It's not a kid's movie, though. It's a kid's movie ~for adults~. The issue is that it has all of the narrative pitfalls and inconsistencies of a kid's movie, but as an adult, I'm hyper-aware of these pitfalls. The narrative is really all over the place: every plot point is underexplained, and every character is underdeveloped. It's a series of vignettes that try to convince the audience that they're interconnected, but I can't really see the connective tissue. Now, it's been a long time since I've read Dahl, and I honestly don't think I read this book as a child, but even if this structure adheres closely to the source material, that doesn't make it accessible. I was honestly more confused, and wish that things were tighter.

There's also too many characters. Anderson adores his ensemble cast, but here, that ensemble is mostly side-characters besides the protagonist Mr. Fox. We never spend enough time getting to know any of these characters, and as a result, they basically become archetypes.

And finally, the message. Or, should I say, the messages: it's like Anderson put every kid's book message into a blender and slapped on a sticker that read, "FOR ADULTS, TOO!!!" It's messy, but it's also trite. I don't find anything here to be original. I feel like I want to shake Anderson and ask him why he was the only person who had to make this adaptation. I think if he distilled it and didn't try to do all the things, he would've said something intriguing.

But we're back at my issue with style. Anderson is a style-over-substance director. I've often argued that he should've been a painter, not a film-maker, because his films lack depth outside of their images. Anderson, though, seems to insist that his substance is the style, but he refuses to realize that his style paints him into a corner of predictability. We know what Anderson wants to say about Mr. Fox from the beginning. We know what he has to say about his relationship to his son. We know what he has to say about his son, his wife, and the town folks. We know what he has to say about the villains. I didn't need to watch this movie to guess what it was about. The only reason to watch it is for the animation, but honestly, the glimmer of that fades quickly once you realize this is the same Wes Anderson film with the same copy-paste beats, jokes, and conclusions, but just...animated. The only interesting thing Anderson says here is about Rat, and even then, because he's a side-side-side character told in a vignette tangent story, the impact is almost nonexistent.

It's frustrating, in a way, because all the flaws I see here - noncohesive narrative structure, an ensemble that's too big to handle, too many messages, a kid's film for adults that lacks an original conclusion from a normal kid's film, the vignette structure - are all fixed in Isle of Dogs. The box his style wrote him into wasn't an issue in Rushmore. He even started to overcome it in Moonrise Kingdom. Sure, the animation is stellar, but what's beyond the surface? If anyone believes that this is Anderson's masterpiece, then I feel like they're coming from a place of love for his style, and not looking at the substance.

I don't hate Wes Anderson. I just think he can do better.

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