The Other Side of Animation 66: Fantastic Mr. Fox Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

With animation becoming more of a big deal in the film industry, I think it would be cool to see some directors known for their live-action dramas, horror, action, romance, and indie films try to tackle animation. I mean, how cool would it be to see QuentinTarantino make an animated action flick? Or how about James Wan make an animated horror film, or the Duffer Brothers make an animated sci-fi film? When I got more into films, I found an early love for Wes Anderson, for his unique stories and characters. It’s why I was amazed to see that he made an animated film based on the book by Roehl Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox. This stop-motion film was released on October 14th, in 2009, to many an animation fan the best year of animation. It received critical acclaim, was nominated for multiple awards, and is easily one of the best book-to-film adaptations of all time. It might have only made $46 mil on a $40 mil budget, but I’ll say this. This might be my favorite movie from 2009. Why? Well, let’s find out.

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The story is about, well, a fox named, well, Mr. Fox, voiced by George Clooney. He used to be a bird thief, but after an incident with his wife, Felicity Fox, voiced by Meryl Streep, he retires and settles down with Felicity, and has a child named Ash, voiced by Jason Schwartzman. Mr. Fox decides to move his family to a new home, and discovers that there are three farmers. He starts to get those stealing urges back. After doing a couple of heists from the farmers, Mr. Fox ends up getting his entire family and friends in trouble, due to the farmers creating a plan to destroy them. The story also deals with Mr. Fox essentially going through a mid-life crisis, and his son Ash being jealous of his cousin Kristofferson, voiced by Eric Anderson. Can they make it out alive? Will Mr. Fox learn from this horrifying, albeit hilarious situation?

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Right off the bat, when you watch this movie, the imagery is striking. The animation definitely stands out among anything released in 2009. It has an old-fashioned stop-motion style that has characters with actual fur. Normally with stop-motion, they make everything out of the same material, like in Laika or Aardman-made films. However, the stop-motion in this film is very retro in terms of the visuals. A lot of stop-motion used to have characters with actual fur or fur-like material on them, but it’s something you don’t really see a lot of anymore, unless you look at indie projects. Even with its retro look, the animation is smooth, communicative, and it’s an incredibly gorgeous movie. The entire movie screams the fall season, with its mixtures of browns and oranges. It gives off a calm and cool atmosphere where you can feel the leaves falling around you, and a slightly chilly breeze dances in the air. Wes Anderson also gets the characters and the “quirk” perfectly, since you can clearly get the motivations between the characters. Whenever you see indie films that have a personality, you always hope it feels natural, like in Dope or another Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom.  Being quirky doesn’t necessarily mean a good character. You get why Mr. Fox is having a midlife crisis, or how his son is angry that his cousin is more popular, and how the wife is constantly worried about Mr. Fox’s angsty ambitions.

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Even in this world, you never feel like the combination of stop-motion, humans, and bi-pedal animals wearing clothes are distracting. With Wes Anderson’s signature style and personality, it all gels well, due to how down-to-earth the dialogue comes off. Yes it has its moments of indie quirk, but due to how well defined the characters are, it doesn’t come off as gimmicky. It’s a film that anyone and everyone can get into, which is something animated films should strive to be, instead of “oh, we are just making this for the kids, since kids are dumb and don’t know any better” crowd.

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I enjoyed the voice cast. Usually when you see big names in an animated film, it raises concerns of how into it they will be with their characters. Some studios like Blue Sky Studios don’t get why people hate it when there is “celebrity mugging”. Luckily, everyone who is in this movie really put their all into it. I mean, it should be no surprise when you have actors like George Clooney, Bill Murray, and Meryl Streep, but I never once felt like I was taken out of the experience because an actor was just being themselves. The cast was just perfect, and Wes Anderson usually has an eye for who he wants in his movies. You have, of course, the already mentioned George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray, but the rest of the cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Helen McCrory, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, and some cameos from celebrities like Mario Batali. It’s one of the best casts in animated form that I have reviewed. The movie is also very funny, with some great gags and jokes thrown in that the actors pull off perfectly.

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Now then, what would I say is “bad” or “distracting” that may detract from the film itself? Well, nothing major. I don’t really care if some elements of the book were not put into the movie. I’m not one of those people who think that the book is always better than the movie. To me, I look at all movies based on something as a stand-alone experience. If I happen to know the source material, then I’m going to add that into my judgement of the end product.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox is witty, funny, touching, engaging, and overall, enjoyable. It shows how good Wes Anderson can be, and I wish he could do more animated films like this one. If you haven’t checked this film out, you can either get it on DVD, Blu Ray, or even Criterion. If you like stop-motion films with an indie personality, or want a film that will be timeless, you should definitely check this film out. Well, now that we are heading into the holidays, before we head into the Christmas-themed reviews, let’s get into one of my favorites from 2016, The Boy and the Beast. Thanks for reading. I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation: Free Birds Review

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When you are an animation studio, and you are putting out your first big animated feature, it’s rather daunting. Reel FX, the Dallas-based studio behind today’s film, Free Birds, has experience with straight-to-DVD stuff or animated shorts, but the rules change when you have to move from one type of animation to another. I will talk more about this in the future with The Book of Life since we are here to talk about their first big CGI animated feature, Free Birds. Directed by Jimmy Hayward, who has worked on multiple Pixar films, and was the unfortunate director of Jonah Hex, Free Birds was released on November 1st of 2013. It was critically panned, but made its money back in spades, which the film should consider itself lucky that it did, due to the fact that it came out a few weeks before the gigantic hit Frozen made its way into theaters. So, do I think Free Birds is bad? Do I think it’s good? Well, I’m going to stop you cold turkey, and tell you in a review what I think of this film. I oh so apologize/not apologize for that pun.

The story revolves around a turkey named Reggie, voiced by Owen Wilson. Reggie is the presidential pardoned turkey, who ends up living with the leader of the world. One night he gets kidnapped by this buff turkey named Jake, voiced by Wood Harrelson. The two of them sneak into a secret base (with some groan-worthy product placements), obtain a time machine named Steve, voiced by George Takei, and go all the way back to the very first Thanksgiving to prevent turkeys from being the main course of feasts in the future. Along the way they meet some wild turkeys, with one female turkey voiced by Amy Poehler. Can they change history, or will they become the next Thanksgiving feast?

Yeah, this movie sounds stupid doesn’t it? In a sense, it is. It sounds more like a plot to a short film or a Looney Toons cartoon than a setting that could hold a two-hour movie. In short, it really doesn’t hold up. The idea sounds creative and might lead to some funny jokes, but the plot is stretched thin with a very generic story where Reggie saves the turkeys from the humans. None of the characters are memorable, with the exception of Jake and Steve. Even Amy Poehler, who I think is very funny, and has done amazingly in films like Inside Out, isn’t given a lot to work with. She is just an uninteresting female character. I think the film could have cut out a lot of the characters, like some of the side character turkeys who have no real reason to be there or have any dimension to them. Owen Wilson as the main character isn’t the worst choice, but just like everyone else, he doesn’t have a lot to work with, and just ends up not making me feel invested with the character. I am never in the camp that hates his acting; I just think his movie choices are always mediocre, unless I find him in a Woody Allen film or Wes Anderson production. Owen Wilson just keeps using that doofy, nice guy character that is almost in every film he is in. Oh, and let’s just mention how stereotypical the Native American turkeys and the Native Americans are portrayed in this film. Not incredibly out-of-control racist, but very children-movie-oriented stereotypical. It’s also kind of awkward when one of them says, “It’s better than my wife’s cooking.” Yeah, I’ll stop right there. Oh, and make sure you find a lot of the blatant product placement. Man, it’s not in your face, but it’s in there enough to be annoying.

 

So, I must really hate this entire movie, huh? Well, within all this spread-thin plot, and stupidity of the setup, I did find myself laughing at a few moments. I think between many of the mediocre story bits were some funny moments. Most of them did come from Woody Harrelson, who is a lot of fun to watch in this movie, and George Takei as the voice for the Time Machine. While George doesn’t have the best material, he is one of those guys that can make the phone book sound interesting. Heck, even having George Takei’s character reading 50 Shades of Grey would have made this movie 100% better. I admire his delivery more than the actual material at hand. I also liked the beginning bit when the President’s daughter is hauling Owen Wilson around. She makes these little comments toward people, like blabbing out that a female secretary on the helicopter loves her dad, who I remind you, is the president, and when they get back, she says that a maid eats her feelings. I can’t really pin down why that little sequence made me laugh, but I guess that my expectations were so low that those jokes caught me off-guard. It’s a shame that not a lot of jokes like that were used throughout the film. Those few jokes were more humorous than the constant and multiple jokes about turkey butt.

I will also mention that the animation is definitely better than something like The Nut Job. It still isn’t up to Dreamworks or Pixar levels of CGI, and having a lesser budget made the comedic animation suffer, since it needed to be a tad faster to capture that fast-paced timing from the Tom and Jerry-era of comedic timing. They could have used a lot more time and money to have more polished animation and character models.

So, what do I think of the film overall? I think it’s too forgettable and predictable to be anything worth mentioning or seeing, but at the same time, I found little elements and bits of the film to be enjoyable and fun. Don’t get me wrong, this is a stupid movie with a stupid concept. It’s a bad movie. It doesn’t hit a lot of the emotional notes that it wants to, a lot of the characters are not that interesting, the humor falls flat, and the stereotypical portrayal of certain individuals can be looked at as questionable.  However, I will say that it is better than something like The Nut Job and a few other films I am going to tackle later on. If I was watching someone’s child, and they wanted to watch this, I could see why, though I will be frank and say that they need better movies. Not the best film I have seen, but then again, it came out in a year where films in general were not that great. Well, now that we got this film out of the way, I think it’s time to bring back another GKIDS film as we take a look at their first ever release, Azur & Asmar: The Prince’s Quest. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Lackluster!