Wes Anderson's “Fox” is a fox, a vision to behold, but he besmirches the name of Roald Dahl, whose beloved masterpiece he has gutted and twisted into an unrecognizable mess.
Once upon a time, Wes Anderson made quirky, irony-laden movies I adored: “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Then this blissful marriage between critic and filmmaker took a decidedly sour turn with “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” a fissure that evolved into irreconcilable differences after “The Darjeeling Limited.” But like any hopeless romantic, I gave him one more chance to win me back with “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” And for a while, he had my heart palpitating again. He was more animated, for one thing, and he was hanging out with a better class of people in Roald Dahl, whose story of foxes under fire was enabling his rehabilitation.
Yes, life was grand again and the future looked bright. But before long he reverted to his old, irresponsible ways, trying to cover his inadequacies behind a façade of faux hipness.
Still, I stuck with him to the bitter end, wasting nearly 90 minutes of my life in the process. And what kept me hanging around, as much as I hate to admit it, were looks.
Yes, his “Fox” is a fox, a vision to behold. Not a traditional beauty like “Up” or “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” but an offbeat looker with the distinctive aesthetic of a “Coraline” in which puppets and handcraftsmanship take their rightful place ahead of slick, computer-generated images.
Sure, it was a little disconcerting how the characters moved in a jerky, ungraceful manner, and yes, it was silly seeing foxes, badgers and possums walking upright and dressed like humans. But the expressions on their faces and the mesmerizing way their fur moved were almost as enticing as that other Fox, Megan, straddling her motorcycle in “Transformers 2.” But like the Carrie Prejean sex tape, it was all just a big tease – eye candy with little intelligence underneath. And like the homophobic bleached blonde besmirched the name of beauty queens everywhere, Anderson besmirches the name of Dahl, whose beloved masterpiece has been gutted and twisted into an unrecognizable mess.
The only thing that remains is the hell there is to pay after the fantastic Mr. Fox (voiced by the sly and foxy George Clooney) breaks his vow to his straight-laced wife (Meryl Streep) and returns to his chicken thievin’ ways.
Gone is Dahl’s morbid whimsy, replaced by yet another variation on Anderson’s obsession with family dysfunction in which the Foxes’ marriage is tested as well as Mr. Fox’s strained relationship with his nerdy teenage son (Jason Schwartzman), who believes Dad likes his more charming and athletic nephew (Wes Anderson’s brother, Eric) more than him.
Furthering the sacrilege perpetrated by Wes and his wingman, Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”), is the corresponding tale of three vengeful farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, out to obliterate Mr. Fox and his resentful pals (including a lawyering badger voiced by Bill Murray), who are forced to take refuge in the bowels of the earth in order to survive the rednecks’ wrath.
Now this would have all been well and good if there was a lick of humor or substance behind any of it. But then Anderson hasn’t been amusing since our estrangement began.
It’s evolved into an irreparable betrayal inflicted by a man I once loved. But I can’t deny holding out faint hopes that one day the funny, clever Wes Anderson will return. In the meantime, I will watch “Rushmore” and “The Tenenbaums” over and over, like the pathetic ex-lover I am.
Perhaps I’ll even one day rent “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” grab a box of Kleenex and watch it with the sound off so I can admire its beauty and imagine what could have been if Anderson weren’t such a selfish, single-minded jerk. God, I miss him.
The Patriot Ledger
FANTASTIC MR. FOX (PG for action, smoking and slang humor.) Featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Eric Anderson. Co-written and directed by Wes Anderson.