A Fantastic Opening Night

Fantastic Mr Fox

For those of you who maybe ardent fans of Roald Dahl's classic story Fantastic Mr Fox, this particular adaptation by quirky American director Wes Anderson could at first glance be seen as a desecration of what is a very English tale.

For starters, all the main animal characters are voiced by top American talent, such as George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray with English contributions from the likes of Michael Gambon and singer Jarvis Cocker limited to the human roles, which are essentially peripheral.

Additionally, the uncomplicated visuals that owe much to the past talents of stop-frame animation pinoneers Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien (between them both men have been responsible for classics such as the original King Kong and the wonderful Jason and the Argonauts) are a far cry from the high-tech gloss of recent “tinsel town” releases and you could be forgiven at first for wondering whether film company 20thCentury Fox were backing a losing horse in the animation race. After all, put side by side against the best from Pixar and Disney the deficiencies are obvious.

However, as any true student of film will tell you, visuals are only the half of it, although that isn't to suggest in any way that this picture is unattractive. But to entice an audience that has been spoilt by eye-candy such as Wall-E and the recently released Up, you're going to need to work hard if you want to impress.

Thankfully, what this production does have in its favour is a wonderful personality, an engaging story, really excellent performances from its cast of voice actors (George Clooney has never occupied a better role) and an appeal and originality that make it stand out as family entertainment.

Our hero, the flawed but lovable Mr Fox, is a bit of a risk taker and free spirited adventurer who, ignoring the advice of his lawyer, Badger (Anderson favourite Bill Murray) buys up a tree on land that sits in between the farms of his three major protagonists, farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean, thus setting himself up for a confrontation that slowly spirals out of control.

His long suffering but devoted wife Mrs Fox (a low-key performance from the versatile Streep) and his young son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) both get drawn into the drama as does his nephew Kristofferson, voiced by Eric Anderson.

Certainly the purists might quibble over the American accents running riot through the British countryside and there will probably be a few who can't quite get to grips with the look and feel of the picture but most will soon forget all of this in favour of the eccentric story. The really successful animated features are the ones which draw you away from the fact that you are watching a cartoon and Fantastic Mr Fox does this so well.

It is a real gem of imaginative cinema and certain to enjoy cult status in years to come. I thoroughly recommend a visit to your local cinema when it comes out on general release, which is just in time for half term.

You won't be disappointed.

****

George R Vaughan