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The Auteurs Daily: London. Fantastic Mr Fox

The Auteurs Daily

Fantastic Mr Fox

Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved book, opens the Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival (site) tonight and the first reviews are just coming in.

Anderson's "last three films - The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited - were eccentric family fables pitched far away from realism," notes Time Out London's Dave Calhoun. "This is another. Only this time the family are talking foxes and the sibling rivalry (a trademark of both Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach) plays out between two young fox cousins.... Like much of Anderson's work, it's cool on the eye and cool on the heart." Calhoun also interviews Anderson.

The Evening Standard's Nick Curtis finds it "brilliantly eccentric, a cult classic in the making and a bold choice for tonight's opening gala." As for the "jerky, lo-fi, stop-frame style," "It's all very disconcerting at first, but Anderson's vision soon bowls you over. He constantly draws attention to the gloriously brittle fakery of his creation."

The Telegraph's David Gritten doesn't so much review Fantastic Mr Fox as argue that, for all the Americans involved, including the "stellar voice cast, including George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray," it remains "as British as the festival itself."

Anderson's on the cover of the November issue of the BFI's Sight & Sound, with its guide to the festival (not online just yet) and the Times, of course, has a special section up for the LFF; but so, too, do the Guardian and Time Out London. The Evening Standard takes the "Ultimate Guide" approach, that is, capsule reviews and a few choice highlights. Screen's section focuses on industry news, naturally.

For the Times, Hugo Rifkind chats with Anderson and: "At Gipsy House, the family home in Buckinghamshire where Roald Dahl dreamt up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and The BFG, the atmosphere is so thick with his presence that it feels as if he has been gone but a few minutes," writes Damian Whitworth. "As his widow, Liccy, talks about Dahl, one half expects him to step back in from having a cigarette in the garden or come creaking down the stairs."

Chris Lee's piece on the making of the film for the Los Angeles Times has been stirring it up ever since it appeared on Sunday; Lee gathers the London crew's complaints, then calls the director up in Paris to ask him about their frustrations. Anderson is, surprise, "taken aback" - "'The simple reality is,' Anderson continued, 'the movie would not be the way I wanted it if I just did it the way people were accustomed to doing it. I realized this is an opportunity to do something nobody's ever seen before. I want to see it. I don't want afterward to say, "I could have gone further with this."'"

Online listening tip. The Guardian's got a track from the film performed by Jarvis Cocker.

Online viewing tip. Movieline's Seth Abramovitch: "Wes Anderson Plays 'My Favorite Scene,' Stands by Polanski."

Online viewing tips. For the Guardian, Anderson and "Liccy" Dahl talk about the film's origins; and Xan Brooks pays a visit to the set.

And from Ambrose Heron: "Chaos reigns."


Sight & Sound: Wes Anderson


Updates: "The film's style, paradoxically both precious and rough-hewn, positions this as the season's defiantly anti-CGI toon, and its retro charms will likely appeal more strongly to grown-ups than to moppets," figures Variety's Todd McCarthy; "it's a picture for people who would rather drive a 1953 Jaguar XK 120 than a new one." It "boasts some of the most gorgeous autumnal color schemes devised by someone other than Mother Nature herself, animal puppets festooned with actual fur, and a sensibility more indie than mainstream. It's a curious coincidence that Anderson and Spike Jonze, two of the more prominent musicvid-turned-feature directors, have kid-lit adaptations featuring puppets (albeit of vastly differing sizes) coming out simultaneously, and that both Mr Fox and Where the Wild Things Are [entry] strive for such hand-crafted, individualized looks. The films may have their problems, but the least one can say is that neither very closely resembles anything that's come before."

For Screen's Fionnuala Halligan, this is "a laconic, terribly old-fashioned but fantastically fun stop-motion animation which is an instant high-water benchmark for Dahl fans.... Anderson and Baumbach have nicely punched out Dahl's slim tome, effectively completing the adaptation in 50 minutes and moving on to new ground."

"The screenplay sometimes overdoes the winking asides," writes Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter, "and the film doesn't so much flow as jump from one set piece to the next. But with animation director Mark Gustafson, DP Tristan Oliver and production designer Nelson Lowry, Anderson has created a world as stylized and inventive as anything he's done. From the fox-red glow of a morning idyll to the noirish gutter scene where one character meets his end to the icy fluorescent glare of the film's closing scene - happy but not without compromise - Fox is a visual delight."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "Anderson has created a movie with that oddball quality that I associate with both him and Michael Gondry: a quirky-homespun aesthetic with a meticulous foregrounding of knowing detail. He takes the story of the Fox clan and their battle against three agribusiness villains - Boggis, Bunce and Bean - and reimagines this feisty family as exactly the sort of amiably dysfunctional yet pin-smart bunch that he depicted in The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou."

"The film is more of an out-and-out comedy than anything in Anderson's career so far," writes Oli Lyttelton at the Playlist, "and the script retains his usual dry wit, but is lacking in the killer lines found in Rushmore or Tenenbaums, and even the stand-out supporting performances like Willem Dafoe in The Life Aquatic - it's consistently amusing, but never really laugh-out-loud funny. But it also lacks the heart of the director's best work. Mr Fox is closer to the aspirational working-class likes of Max Fischer, a refreshing change from the spoilt protagonists of The Darjeeling Limited, but the film pulls its punches - the script dwelled much more closely on Fox's split between his desire to provide for his family, and his nature as a wild animal, but it's rushed through in the finished product, leaving the central arc feeling rather thin." Still, "taken on its own terms, Fantastic Mr Fox is a perfectly enjoyable diversion."

"What the film lacks, for all its inventiveness, is the sense of menace and sadism that bristles through Dahl's best stories," finds Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "In Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox, we have a real sense that Fox and his family face starvation when the farmers blockade them. Here, even though Fox loses his tail and the farmers are very mean, there is no real sense that the critters underground are suffering." That said: "Fantastic Mr Fox has a gently subversive edge that many mainstream animated features lack."

Guy Lodge at In Contention: "With its multiple in-jokes and smart-alec visual details, Anderson has ostensibly brought Fantastic Mr Fox to an adult audience, but the truth is that his familiar faux-naif stylings register more sincerely in a children's film than in his previous work. As a Dahl fan, I was unmoved; as an Anderson agnostic, I was gently, unexpectedly charmed."

For Movieline, Mark Lisanti has "fastidiously reimagined" Anderson's emails to his crew.

Update, 10/15: IndieWIRE's Peter Knegt reports on the LFF opening - and points to Greg Ellwood's hilarious rundown of the Clooney vs Murray joke-off over at Hitfix.

Update, 10/16: What we have here, says Kevin Maher in the Times, is "a children's film that is concerned mostly with the quiet consistent heartbreak of family life. And yes, the movie is as stylistically meticulous as you'd expect from Anderson, with his trademark proscenium framing, baroque production design and standout soundtrack (including the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys). But it's the small intimacies - the wiping of a tear from fluffy fur, the fleeting reconciliation of father and son - that suggest the work of a master."

Updates, 10/17: "It's a distinguished addition to a filmic canon that includes superb versions of The Witches and Matilda," writes Will Self in a terrific piece on Dahl for the Guardian. "I don't adore Dahl's children's fiction in spite of its submerged misogyny, lust, revanchism and wilful neglect of identity politics – I love it precisely because of these attributes."

"I love Where The Wild Things Are, but I totally acknowledge that there are a lot of people who are going to want something different from that film," writes Drew McWeeney for Hitfix. "For them, more fun with the Wild Things is what they wanted, and that's fair.... But with Fantastic Mr Fox, no matter how real and three-dimensional the emotional underpinnings of the film, it is always, always, always moment-to-moment hilarious. If you're considering Wild Things, but you're worried it might be too heavy for your kid, just wait. This is a much easier shared experience."

Online viewing tip. Movieline finds two minutes with Bill Murray.

Update, 10/23: "Audiences new to Anderson's work will be able to savour his trademark style, which is characterised by pedantic detail, snappy montages, symmetrical framing and more cross-sections than a geology textbook," writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman. "For the rest of us, the picture provides further evidence that Anderson desperately needs to leave his comfort zone. Once again, he gives the same character types the same conundrums to work through - from the patriarch whose adorable wildness prevents him from being a dependable parent, to the strong mother with a colourful past who is nevertheless excluded from playing much part in the action. If Fantastic Mr Fox feels like Anderson's freshest film since Rushmore, that can only be due to the animation. Beneath those tactile textures, there's nothing you could strictly call fantastic."

"Anderson's adaptation is not just a return to form, but a bold and for the most part highly successful leap into relatively uncharted waters," finds Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph.

More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Dave Calhoun (Time Out London) and Kevin Maher (London Times).

Craig McLean talks with Anderson for the Telegraph.

"Can You Tell Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson Apart?" A quiz at Vanity Fair.

Update, 10/24: "People watch Wes Anderson's movies precisely because they're not about the real world," argues Steve Rose in the Guardian.

Updates, 10/28: "Fantastic Mr Fox turned out to be a delight," writes Dan North, "the best film Anderson has made since Rushmore. As many reviewers have noticed, it manages to retain many of the director's trademarks: a retro rock soundtrack, for example, and louche dialogue delivered by a cast of favoured performers. These casual line-readings are a nice contrast to the mannered perkiness that characterises so much voicing of kids' animation, and make a surprisingly perfect match with the sometimes coarse stop-motion visuals."

Via Richard Brody, Arnaud Desplechin talks with Anderson for Interview.


What’s the word I’m looking for? Twee. Why should I care? Oh yes. Wes, it was rape. Say it: rape. Of a child.

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