That fox is foxy!
THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX is Wes Anderson’s best movie since BOTTLE ROCKET. (Read Perrin Drumm’s previous coverage of this film.) And boy is that fox foxy. Scoring George Clooney and Meryl Streep was truly a coup, as their interactions subtly and richly mine the dynamics of marriage, life expectations, and negotiating “bad” behavior in a relationship.
How did Wes arrive at this place? My response to most of his films has been that they certainly are fun to look at, but waaaaaaay less satisfying story-wise, a cotton-candy sugary disappearance from the consciousness almost instantly after viewing. (My husband always says, “He should have been a graphic designer.” Ouch.) The magic bullet here, the big difference, seems to be Noah Baumbach, co-writer, who is clearly bringing additional nuance to the table.
The interesting thing is that the story structure of FOX is perhaps the most classical for both writers. Baumbach’s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE and MARGOT AT THE WEDDING rely on character studies more than classical arcs. The Anderson catalogue relies on goofy behavior in a exquisitely-designed universe, from tassle to type face to placement in the frame. Add these two strengths to a fairly classical story structure, plus gorgeous stop motion animation, and you have something very unique.
Here’s where I plug classical storytelling. Students often dismiss it as boring, and I myself often feel the tug of the elliptical, the chapter-approach, the Charlie Kaufman puzzle antics. But look at FOX – a protagonist with a clear desire (to get all three farmers in his new neighborhood, and get in one last hoorah of fox-stealing before he goes to seed), a subplot that’s both familiar yet specific in its details (a son longing for dad’s love, with interference from a talented cousin), plot twists, a climax, and resolution, and not a pat one at that – the marriage doesn’t suddenly become perfect; the future doesn’t go on auto-sweeten. Sure, there’s revenge, action, satisfaction – in the spirit of the caper genre. But the unique, specific details – therein lies the secret to using the classical model. And Anderson can pay glorious attention to every tassle and fringe, on every puppet. Watch the trailer here: