Film Club: The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson Gets Animated
Friday, November 27, 2009
Critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks discuss Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson has dealt with dysfunctional families in "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Darjeeling Limited," but "Fantastic Mr. Fox (opened November 25throughout San Diego) marks the first time he has done so in the realm of animation. The film is both distinctly for Anderson's adult fans but it also has an enchanting appeal for children. The stop motion animation style is dazzling and irresistible -- it feels fresh because it's going back to old school techniques that everyone except Henry Selick and Aardman Studios have abandoned for flashier computer technology.
Here's the Film Club of the Air discussion about the film.
DOUG MYRLAND: Well, the movie is “The Messenger” and it’s playing now at the Landmark La Jolla Village Cinemas. Let’s move on to the “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” It’s a PG rated film based on a Roald Dahl novel about a fox, his family and their interactions with animal and human neighbors. The movie’s in stop motion animation. The director is Wes Anderson, whose previous work was in live action with films including “Bottle Rocket” and “The Life Aquatic.” The voice actors include George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray. So what did we think about this animated film?
BETH ACCOMANDO: Scott, you want to go – start that?
SCOTT MARKS: Sure. Sure. This is like the only animated film I’ve seen in ages that gives Pixar a run for its money. This thing is so well made, funny, and the animation, the stop motion animation…
MARKS: …is astounding. And he wanted this film to have an old-school look to it. This is not computer generated. You watch this and the first thing I thought of, you see the fur on their back moving…
MARKS: …and I’m thinking “King Kong.”
ACCOMANDO: “King Kong,” yeah.
ACCOMANDO: That’s exactly…
MARKS: This is based on a film called “The Story of a Fox” (sic) that came out in 1930. I think it’s a 65-minute film directed by Russian animator Vladislav Starevich and – who is, as far as I’m concerned, the father of stop motion animation. And he went back to the roots of stop motion animation and it is flawless. Instead of shooting this at 24 frames per second, he shot it at 12 frames per second to give the film more of a stop motion feel. He didn’t want to have that kind of slick look that you see in so much contemporary animation. The only contemporary director who’s really working in stop motion animation – well, there are two but there are really one, Henry Selick and Tim Burton.
MARKS: And from an animation standpoint, I think this is much better than “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Coraline” or anything that they’ve done.
MYRLAND: Just to help our audience out, we’re talking about the kind of animation that – you mentioned “King Kong.”
MYRLAND: Ray Harryhausen’s “Sinbad” movies from the 1960s.
MARKS: Yeah, this is where they take models and they actually take frame by frame, shot by shot. You have to readjust the hands, the feet, the smile, everything, in order to make these characters move. This is a painstaking process. Have you heard all the horror…
ACCOMANDO: Well, “Wallace and; Gromit,” isn’t that stop motion also?
MARKS: Isn’t – You’ve heard all the horror stories?
MYRLAND: Yeah, the difference with…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, on this one?
MYRLAND: Beth, the difference with “Wallace and Gromit” is those are all mostly…
MARKS: That’s claymation.
MYRLAND: …whereas these…
MARKS: They’re puppets.
MYRLAND: …in this film have more physical properties to them other than just the smooth clay.
MARKS: And you can do stop motion animation with…
ACCOMANDO: With anything.
MARKS: …human figures, with anything…
MARKS: And any object, you can do stop motion animation. You know the horror stories about this?
ACCOMANDO: No, no.
MARKS: Oh, that he’s – he was in Paris.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, the – that…
MARKS: And he would act…
MARKS: …out all the moves and then send…
MARKS: …them to his animators via iPhone. And then his director of photography, you know, this is like…
ACCOMANDO: And he didn’t have a lot of human contact with his other crew members.
MARKS: Right, and they’ve started like an internet feud that’s sort of like Jennifer Fox and Michael Bay – Megan Fox, I’m sorry, and Michael Bay where they just started sniping at each other. He said that Wes Anderson suffers from OCD and that’s why he’s doing this. And Anderson fired back and then the DP fired back basically saying, and, please, all of you fans, stop sending me death threats.
MYRLAND: Well, while we’re talking about Wes Anderson, there’s a lot to talk about in this movie. But with Wes Anderson, how does this work into the pantheon of his other films? How does this fit into his body of work?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s probably the first one you’ve liked of his.
MARKS: Oh, no.
ACCOMANDO: No? Oh, okay.
MARKS: No, his first two films were great. My complaint with Wes Anderson, great directors should move forward and advance and I think he started with his two best films and everything…
ACCOMANDO: And he kept repeating…
MARKS: …has gotten progressively worse.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, I love – The style of animation is just so appealing and, like Scott mentioned, it – the first thing that came to mind is “King Kong.” And this kind of animation…
MARKS: It’s that fur.
ACCOMANDO: It’s the fur, it’s the fur moving. It moves in such a way, and it just creates so much personality. I mean, you really feel that they have – they feel like they exist much more in a real world than when you get these computer generated 3-D animation that just seems so lifeless.
MYRLAND: Well, we’ll continue talking about this but we do need to take a quick break. You’re listening to the Film Club of the Air These Days in San Diego.
MYRLAND: You’re listening to These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland. We’re doing the Film Club of the Air. We have Scott Marks. He’s a local film critic and the author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com, and we have Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic. And we’re talking about the “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a Wes Anderson animated film. And before we do any more talking, let’s hear an example of this. It’s a scene where Mr. Fox, who’s voiced by George Clooney, cusses out the character of Badger, voiced by Bill Murray.
(audio of clip from animated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)
MYRLAND: So you’ve got Bill Murray and George Clooney but you don’t really have Bill Murray and George Clooney, you’ve got a couple of puppets. How do audiences reconcile that?
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, I don’t think there’s that much to reconcile. It – That animation, I think, just pulls you in immediately. But I do have a slight problem with well known actors like George Clooney voicing characters because I do have this initial feeling of seeing him when I first hear his voice. And in a lot of ways, I prefer lesser-known actors voicing in animation and cartoons.
MARKS: But he is a Mr. Fox, he is that cool, suave kind of guy.
ACCOMANDO: I know but there’s just something about well known actors doing voices that initially kind of puts me off.
MYRLAND: It’s certainly not a guarantee that an animated film is going to be a success. I mean, we can point to some films that have had very famous actors and it didn’t make any difference. And yet you can also point to some that it’s been a huge advantage. You think Anderson made the right decision to pick really famous people like Meryl Streep and George Clooney?
MARKS: It doesn’t bother me because he made the right decision to do stop motion animation the way it should be done. So, to me, that kind of overrides any of the actors. The one question that people keep asking is should I take my children to see this? Yeah.
MARKS: By all means. I mean, I think children love being challenged. That little cussing that you just played, that’s like “Raging Bull” for five year olds. I mean, that is hilarious. And kids are going to use the word ‘cuss’ now in order to substitute it for profanity which, I think, is wonderful. And I love the fact that at times these characters act like foxes. The way these…
MARKS: …characters eat is absolutely hilarious, the sounds they make. These are not human characters at all. I mean, they’re…
ACCOMANDO: No, they are and so – I mean, they mix it nicely, I think.
MARKS: What’s the word, anthropho…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I can’t say it.
MARKS: Oh, boy. Thank you. Boy…
ACCOMANDO: That one.
MARKS: …I can never say that one. These characters are ‘anthro’ as Doug said, yet somehow, like Bugs Bunny, at times they do retain their…
MARKS: …natural instincts. And I think that that is so charming and so funny and this is a film that I think a lot of it’s going to go over kids’ heads but it doesn’t matter because the characters are so appealing.
MYRLAND: Well, I…
ACCOMANDO: Well, and I think visually it’s really going to appeal to kids because it’s just – it’s just so charming and inviting to enter into this world with – and there’s a lot of detail in it, too, which is so wonderful.
MYRLAND: I want to play another clip but it needs some set up because I understand in the movie there’s a whole new game made up. It’s a kind of cross between cricket and baseball. Can you talk about that before we play this?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, I think you should let Owen Wilson explain…
ACCOMANDO: …it. It’s just a made-up game and you’ll just be confused.
MYRLAND: Okay. Well, here’s a scene from the film. Owen Wilson as Coach Skip, a wack-bat coach, and Jason Schwartzman playing Ash, and the clip starts off with those rules.
(audio of clip from the film “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)
MYRLAND: That’s Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman in the “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” And, you know, we’ve got a tradition in film in this country of directors having a cast of regulars. You keep think – I think about John Ford and Ward Bond was in all his movies, and a recurring cast. And it seems like Wes Anderson does that, too, with…
MYRLAND: …Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Is that a good thing?
MARKS: For a director to have like a traveling stock company? You bet. And what’s amazing about this film is all of Wes Andersons preoccupations are in this movie, the way he looks at, you know, dysfunctional families in America, it’s all in this film. So, to me, this was a giant step forward for him. I don’t care if he was basically directing for Paris via iPhone, this is a giant leap in his approach to filmmaking. I love this film. And it all came about – there is some stop motion animation in “Life Aquatic”…
MARKS: …that hooked him…
ACCOMANDO: Which Henry Selick did.
MARKS: Henry Selick did it, yeah, and they were supposed to work on this and then Selick went his own ways to make “Coraline” and Anderson went off to do this. So this, to me, is if you’re going to see one family film this Thanksgiving, this would be the pick. This is a terrific film.
MYRLAND: Beth, do you agree?
ACCOMANDO: No, I’d agree with that. Yeah, it’s loads of fun. I love stop motion animation so it’s a real pleasure to see it.
MYRLAND: Okay. The movie is the “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and it opens today, so stand on line.
Companion viewing: "King Kong," "Chicken Run," "Corpse Bride"