2009 has been a fantastic year for animated films. Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr Fox, Monsters v Aliens, Ponyo, Mary and Max – all contenders for the Oscar and all amongst the most influential and memorable films of the year. The pessimist in me worries that this has more to do with a severe lack of half interesting live action films this year, but it cannot be denied that this year for only the second time in Oscar history, there are 20 films that made the shortlist for best animated feature, and therefore 5 films will receive nominations.
This is made all the more encouraging by the fact that even in a year without an Aardman release, 3 of those films are stop motion, and not one involves a hyperactive CGI rodent sidekick.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
I’ve been eagerly awaiting Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox since rumours of it’s creation first reached my ears a couple of years ago. Although I see myself as a filmmaker, I am first and foremost a lover of stories, and it is with severe trepidation that I await my favourite stories being turned in to films even by directors that I trust. Wes Anderson is not one of those directors. Quirky and idiosyncratic though his films may be, he seems to find it virtually impossible to tell a narrative that goes from A to B without meandering down meaningless alleyways to develop 1 dimensional characters that are based on lurid caricatures.
The film is, unfortunately, not a huge success. The direction is static, with virtually no camera moves, or interesting angles to move the film along. It reads like a comic book, with every scene shot front on in a series of plateaus. The script lacked the wit of Roald Dahl’s words, it didn’t savour the language or revel in the telling of the story – it was functional language without adornment or sparkle.
The script was not helped by mediocre vocal performances. George Clooney was fine, but too sympathetic and introspective as Mr Fox. The normally fabulous Meryl Streep was practically invisible as Mrs Fox, and the addition of 2 children (both of whom are having the traditional Anderson emotional problems) was nauseating to say the least.
Obviously the story was going to have to be expanded to make a feature length film, but having a cousin come to stay? The Simpson’s team were once told by their network (Fox) that they should ‘shake things up a little’ by having a cousin come and join the family, so for one episode they did just that and had an inexplicable cousin hanging around. The Simpsons were having a joke. I don’t think Wes Anderson was.
The animation on the film was a different style to what we’re used to. The rustling of the fur as the animators handled it added a retro feel that worked well with the static shots and the 50s style clothing, and I enjoyed the feeling that I was watching a film made as simply as possible without a large Hollywood studio behind it.
One of the most important aspects of any film, and especially of an animated film, is the willing suspension of disbelief. The audience must stay emotionally involved in the film from the first frame to the last, and not ‘come out’ of the movie for any reason. Fantastic Mr Fox contained too many moments where I left the world of the movie because of a cheap shot, bizarrely forced perspective or bad line.
That said, it cannot be denied that the children in the audience seemed to be enjoying the film, and laughed hysterically at parts where I was tutting under my breath. So perhaps it simply wasn’t made for grumpy old animators, and perhaps to it’s target market it was a flawless piece of cinematic wonder. But I maintain that there was more wit in one line of the book, than Anderson managed to fit in the entire film.
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