Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Movie Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

If has been a long time since we saw Chicken Run, but we thought of it while watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The similarities were, at best, superficial, but it offers context and a place to start.  At the very least, the setting and tone are in some ways alike.

Unlike Chicken Run, the main characters aren't herbivores: when Mr. Fox steals a chicken, he breaks its neck with a bite.  As you may have guessed, the theme isn't overly concerned with animal rights.  Rather, this is a picture about survival; particularly during an economic downturn.

Yes, this is an animated family film about the recession.

It's also a holiday movie, albeit an unusual type.  This seems to be a Thanksgiving movie, suggesting that elements of the holiday have survived the assault by Christmas.

This is a nuanced and complex picture.  The comedy is clever but subtle.  As such, we spent much of the film adjusting to the tone.  Repeat viewings will no doubt offer entirely new experiences, but the first was a bit underwhelming.  This isn't so much a flaw as a trade-off, one common enough in art-house pictures but almost unheard of in animated movies marketed to a family audience.

By and large, the cast is instantly recognizable.  In most cases, this is problematic, but the voice acting and direction are so good it's impossible to mind.  In fact, the casting here feels spot-on.

By design, the animation is less smooth than what we're used to in big budget stop motion.  It's as though the movie doesn't want you to forget that it was made with real materials and not with CG.  In the trailers this came off as odd, but in the movie it feels right.

The tone of this movie is startlingly consistent.  It is, for lack of a better word, offbeat and quirky.  It's also a touch darker than we'd anticipated.  This isn't to say it's more disturbing - overall, it's not - simply a bit more grown up in its portrayal of danger and tragedy.  The strongest scenes are those dealing with relationships, which come off as incredibly real.  One scene, in particular, between Mr. and Ms. Fox managed to outdo The Incredibles in exploring the marital problems of animated characters.

Should you see it?  Definitely.  But it's our opinion you should consider waiting for DVD, when you can watch it several times without having to spend $11 every time you want to start it again.  The animation is artistic and intriguing, but not awe-inspiring.  You will not lose much viewing it on a smaller screen.

In terms of rating, we will compare this to Coraline and award it three and a half stars, though it's possible repeat viewing will raise that.

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