Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

It’s a fluke that Fantastic Mr. Fox would even be on this list. I have no children, and normally no reason to see a children’s movie. But in recent years, for I think the first time since I was a child myself, I have seen a few such movies when in the company of people I know who do have children—maybe three films in their entirety, good portions of four or five others, and snippets of a few more.

But anyway, I thought Fantastic Mr. Fox was a dud. And, yes, one’s first inclination would be to say that that’s simply because I’m not in the target audience for a children’s film and so of course it’s not going to appeal to me. But two pieces of evidence say otherwise.

One, I liked all or almost all of the other children’s movies I’ve been exposed to in recent years better than this one. If I disliked this because it’s a movie for kids, why didn’t I dislike all the others just as much? It’s entirely possible for a children’s movie to have sufficient wit and cleverness to give it some appeal to adults as well. How about Shrek, for instance? I’m not going to say Shrek is one of my favorite movies of all time, but I enjoyed it for sure. Well done, funny stuff.

Two, the people I saw the movie with have vastly more experience than I with children’s movies, and were decidedly unimpressed. The parents, independently, both described the film as “lame” compared to the many children’s films they’ve genuinely liked. The youngest child (just 3, so maybe too young to count) was reported by her mother to have been bored silly much of the time and frightened the rest of the time (until she was taken out a half hour into the film—lucky girl). I didn’t hear an assessment from the middle child. The oldest child offered a perfunctory, “Oh, it was good” with no elaboration. (She’s a very positive person, plus clearly sees the experience of going out to a movie as fun and kind of a big deal in itself, so I suspect her vague praise was more generic than not.)

So not exactly a ringing endorsement from that family.

And it’s surprising, because this isn’t some low budget production by a bunch of untalented nobodies. The animation and production values in general are highly professional, it’s from a name director (Wes Anderson), it’s adapted from a story by renowned author Roald Dahl, and the voice actors include big names like George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray. This really should be at least decent, not the snoozefest it is.

Most of the storyline I forgot five minutes after the film ended, but in broad terms it’s about the title character’s return to a life of crime (chicken stealing and the like) against the wishes of his wife. It gets him and his family and various other animals in a lot of trouble, but he’s able to save the day in the end, with the help of his son, who has always desperately wanted to prove himself to his father.

If there’s a moral, I suppose it’s the one that’s stated multiple times, that wild animals can’t be expected to change their nature. But of what import is that in a children’s film? How is that a significant lesson that kids can learn from, and somehow use in their life? Is it supposed to apply in some analogous way to humans? Are kids being told that whatever an individual’s “nature” seems to be from his or her behavior thus far, that that’s pretty much what it’ll always be?

One of the characters in The Crying Game makes a point like that, but I have trouble seeing it as the moral of a children’s movie.

Now this would all be excusable if the movie were at least funny, but mostly it’s not. There’s a clever line here and there (I suppose I’d vote for the opossum Kylie as my favorite character), but it’s really nothing special in that regard.

I know I’m very much in the minority on this one (as are the parents I saw it with for that matter), as it got rave reviews, but to me it was never more than mildly entertaining. Most of it is frankly boring.

Let’s put it this way: Fantastic Mr. Fox is a movie about stealing chickens, and somehow they passed up the golden comedic opportunity to at some point of the film have a frightened chicken thief about to be caught red handed call out from his hiding place in a chicken coop “Ain’t nobody in here but us chickens!”

I rest my case.

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