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'Tis the season to be foxy
December 9, 2009 - Rick Chatenever
As soon as he said, “I used to be a chicken thief, but now I’m a newspaper columnist,” I knew I liked Mr. Fox.
It wasn’t just our shared profession. And those may not have been his exact words (misquoting is part of the job description for newspaper columnists). But you catch the drift.
Actually, Mr. Fox had me from hello in Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” This wiggy and wonderful new animated comedy features the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep along with Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe.
It’s stop-action animation, which allows the varmints in the cast to do the most amazing things with their bodies and get the most ridiculous expressions on their furry faces. It’s a perfect medium for capturing the sly tone of Roald Dahl children’s story, managing to be utterly original and completely irresistible at the same time.
It’s the kind of movie that has you bursting into laughing out loud, sometimes when everyone else in the audience is quiet ... for reasons you can’t explain.
The “story,” such as it is, involves falling off the wagon for Mr. Fox, briefly relapsing into his old life in poultry crime to pull off a triple heist on nasty neighbor farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean.
But it feels more like a sitcom for barnyard varmints, a domestic day-in-the-lifer for the Fox family. Besides the long-suffering travails of Mrs. Fox living with her shifty, smooth-talking mate, there are the sibling jealousies of their deservedly insecure son, Ash (Schwartzman), especially since his all-too perfect cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) moved in with them.
This is the kind of movie that needs repeat viewings to catch all the cleverness lurking in the details. When you notice the family attorney is named Badger (voiced by Bill Murray), or that Rat (Dafoe) is a villain for hire, or that the arch-fiend farmer Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon) bears a striking resemblance to Daniel Day Lewis in “There Will Be Blood,” you realize writer-director Wes Anderson’s imagination is a thing of rare beauty, apparently running in high gear, 24/7.
This is one case where the early hype — “you’ve never seen anything like this movie” — is true. Its sheer originality may actually be a detriment — in its second week out, as star Clooney was emerging as a major Oscar contender for “Up in the Air,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” couldn’t even crack the top 10 at the box office. It ends its run at Maui Mall Megaplex tonight, but will be back for a FirstLight screening at 2 p.m. Jan. 2 in the MACC’s Castle Theater.
Which is definitely worth marking on the calendar. Because unlike so much of today’s movie animation that pitches cute mindlessness to the young members of the audience coupled with smirking asides for their parents, “Mr. Fox” brims with one-size-fits-all whimsy. The kids in the audience will be spellbound by the critters and their plights; their parents will be able to identify with the all-too-human flaws of its nonhuman characters. And underneath all that is delight in sheer silliness, along with wit and imagination lovingly bestowed on all the furry friends in sight that’s so hard to find on movie screens — or anywhere else — these days.
I was still crediting Mr. Fox for my fantastic frame of mind when we made our annual visit to the Haleakala Waldorf School Holiday Faire last Saturday. Or maybe it was the delicious blueness of the crisp Kula sky, or the guileless smiles of all the kids that put me in carefree mode.
With music ranging from hula to bagpipes to Haleakala chanteuse Lily Meola performing with Doobie bro Pat Simmons and his son, Pat Jr., the place was brimming with the joy of creating.
The Haleakala campus has always had a slightly enchanted feel to it; the Waldorf curriculum, full of an old-fashioned sort of fairy-tale magic, helps. One of the arts-and-crafts booths was selling gossamer fairy gowns; I assumed they were school uniforms.
With all the changes on Maui, Haleakala Waldorf School is one of the few things that seems to be getting better. Its commitment to letting its kids be kids is showing signs of producing some pretty cool grown-ups. Its colorful celebration of this festive season offers the rarest of gifts: a hopeful future.
I got some of the same vibes the following afternoon watching young Tyler Charbonneau and her fellow scene-stealing orphans in the delightful production of “Annie” ending its run this weekend at the Historic Iao Theater.
Where were all these positive feelings coming from? Could it be the season? The kids? The blueness of the sky?
I blame it on the fox.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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