Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wild About 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

Coincidentally, the last two films I went to see at the movie theater have been adaptations of children's books. [Being the astute and well-read bibliophile that I am...] I had read both
'Where the Wild Things Are,' written by Maurice Sendak, and 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' authored by Roald Dahl, before I saw their respective adaptations.

Both movies make use of contemporary cinematic technologies. Fantastic Mr. Fox is filmed in stop-motion animation, and Where the Wild Things Are was supposedly years in the making, so that Spike Jonze could figure out exactly how to effectively combine the bodysuits worn by the live actors, with CGI'ed movements.

And, arguably, both movies are directed toward a composite child-adult audience, attempting to successfully provide entertainment on both levels of sophistication.

I waited in eager anticipation for Where the Wild Things Are, and while I did enjoy the movie, it was not commensurate with my level of expectation. After seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox, I realized just how disappointing Where the Wild Things actually was.

First, Fantastic Mr. Fox has a smart and witty narrative. The story is simple, yet compelling, and the characters are developed to a level where you distinguish their personalities and idiosyncrasies. The dialogue is sensibly and cleverly written, to be enjoyed by children and adults. [instead of swearing, the characters would say "cuss"... for example, "you scared the 'cuss' out of me..." or "well, this is a real cluster-'cuss'..."]. Where the Wild Things Are is certainly written to elevate the story beyond the simply tale presented in the book, but it seems to lack a degree of candor and purpose. I never felt attached to the characters, I had a hard time distinguishing between the various 'Wild Things,' and I never felt as though I cared about what happened to them.

Second, Fantastic Mr. Fox is laugh-out-loud hilarious. The film uses visual pranks, musical humor and witty dialogue to create a genuinely funny overtone. Where the Wild Things Are has its 'funnier' moments, but the dramatic/serious aspect to the story overpowers throughout the entire film, and seems to detract and preempt any attempt at humor.

Most telling, perhaps, is that Fantastic Mr. Fox recaptures the childhood magic of reading; it delivers the feeling I expected to experience during Where the Wild Things Are. The trailer for the latter film promised this feeling, with those sunlit scenes where Max is sailing and the forest shots where the camera spies on the "Wild Things." [all with the killer Arcade Fire tune, 'Wake Up,' adding to the sense of wonder...] Yet, the execution of the film simply falls flat. It is stale, tired and drags on for too long, revisiting the same themes over again and again.

Overall, Fantastic Mr. Fox excites the imagination, and reclaims that 'magical' feeling of childhood, whereas Where the Wild Things Are simply does not. Director Wes Anderson captures the essence of Roald Dahl's whimsical tale, and presents it in an endearing, humorous and engaging medium.

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