Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson, 87 mins, (PG)
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, Paul Weitz, 103 mins, (12A)
A Roald Dahl tale in the hands of Wes Anderson proves to be a typically idiosyncratic experience
Sunday 25 October 2009
A word of caution if you're planning to take your young to see Fantastic Mr Fox over the half-term holiday.
It's not just a film adapted from a Roald Dahl novel, it's a Wes Anderson film adapted from a Roald Dahl novel. As far as Anderson is concerned, the fact that it's a stop-motion animation featuring a cast of woodland animals is neither here nor there. It has at least as much in common with The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic as it does with the book you or your children read at school.
The story's outline hasn't changed much, though. Mr Fox is still a vainglorious daredevil who feeds his family by stealing livestock (and cider) from three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean – "one fat, one short, one lean", as Dahl's rhyme goes. Eventually the farmers decide that it's time to retaliate, which they do with shotguns, spades and diggers. Mr F's poaching hasn't just endangered himself, but every quadruped in the area.
So far, so Dahl. But Anderson has filled in the book's outline in his own patented ways. His Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) gives up chicken-rustling to be a newspaper columnist, and he discusses mortgage rates with his lawyer, Mr Badger (Bill Murray). His son (Jason Schwartzman) is a misfit who yearns to win Mr Fox's approval, while his nephew, Kristofferson, is a student of yoga and kung fu. Co-scripted by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), it's an arch yet melancholy catalogue of 21st-century middle-class anxieties, even if the characters do have whiskers and tails.
Fantastic Mr Fox has an unmistakable Anderson look to it, too. The director is as fixated as ever on screen-filling close-ups and hyper-symmetrical panoramas, and his palette is so tightly controlled that his memos to the production designers must have read, "Any colour as long as it's orange". It takes some getting used to. You come with a certain set of expectations to any animation based on a children's novel, so it's unsettling to be confronted by Anderson's deadpan smart-aleckiness, not to mention his shaky plotting.
But once you accept Fantastic Mr Fox for what it is – a Wes Anderson product – it's an effervescent, silly, continually surprising treat. I enjoyed hearing a new Jarvis Cocker ditty performed by a Cocker-lookalike puppet, and I enjoyed it when Farmer Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon) then chastised him for "weak songwriting". It's also encouraging that the time-honoured craft of stop-motion animation has been represented by three such distinctive releases as Fantastic Mr Fox, Coraline and the latest Wallace & Gromit episode within the past year. But will pre-teen viewers be receptive to the film's idiosyncratic look, or the use of "cuss" as a swear word, or the endless talk of "bandit hats"? I hope so, but some of them may well be foxed.
The week's other children's book adaptation is Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, directed by Paul Weitz. It was Weitz's brother Chris who adapted Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, and although the tones and scopes of the two films are poles apart, they have a similar shortcoming. The Golden Compass was drawn from the first book of a trilogy, and The Vampire's Assistant is based on the first three books in a set of 12. This means that both films have to pack in reams of scene-setting mythology, without getting the story itself under way.
The Vampire's Assistant is stuffed with ancient prophecies, strained friendships, opposing supernatural factions and a big top full of unused characters, but all that actually happens is that a teenage boy (Chris Massoglia) joins a travelling circus and becomes the undead protégé of a 200-year-old vampire (John C Reilly). He doesn't go on any adventures or rise to any challenges, so watching the film is a bit like listening to the rules of football and then being sent back to the changing room before kick-off. As Chris Weitz could have warned his big brother after The Golden Compass failed to sprout a sequel, when a film is intent on nothing more than starting a series, it can sometimes ensure that the series isn't going to happen.
Also Showing: 25/10/2009
Colin (97 mins)
Promising British zombie film shot on a camcorder for £45. Its gimmick is that the hero is one of the zombie hordes, which is both a clever idea and the project's undoing: zombies just don't have very engaging personalities, so Colin should have been about 20 minutes shorter.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (90 mins, 15)
Unpleasant comedy starring Jeremy Piven as a swaggering car salesman. He seems to be impersonating the film's producer, Will Ferrell, who wisely decided not to star himself.
Coffin Rock (89 mins, 15)
Low-budget Australian "Foetal Attraction". An Irish drifter impregnates a married woman on a drunken one-minute stand, then demands that she run away with him. The villain may be the least scary psycho in film history, despite assaulting a baby kangaroo.
The Cove (90 mins, (12A)
Upsetting but thrilling exposé of the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan after a few have been picked out to jump through hoops in US theme parks.
Made in Jamaica (120 mins, 15)
Mind-numbing reggae documentary. Stick to the soundtrack album.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Bruce Jenner's 'Interview of the year': Suicidal thoughts, rejection by family members and new wardrobe
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 How to turn off/stop 'seen by' on Facebook: Disable it to make your chats seem less passive aggressive
- 4 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 5 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
MasterChef, TV review: The final climaxed in a frenzy of herbs and hyperbole
Everyday People project: Photographer Pablo Conejo placed an ad on Gumtree - and kickstarted a series of interesting encounters
Male student sues Columbia University for 'gender-based harassment' after alleged 'Mattress Performance' rape victim Emma Sulkowicz went public with claims
MasterChef 2015: Simon Wood named winner
Black Mass trailer: Johnny Depp might have started making good films again
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election