delight to the eye: Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Own Self Be True
by Wes Anderson
is one of the defining characteristics of director-screenwriter
Wes Anderson’s movies that his characters are highly self-conscious:
In his debut film, Bottle Rocket, a small band of would-be
crooks follow an erratic poseur who is actively, if ineptly,
scripting himself an identity as criminal mastermind; in Rushmore,
the main character doesn’t so much lead a life as frame one,
directing himself and those around him; The Royal Tenenbaums
is a mass identity crisis; in The Life Aquatic with Steve
Zissou, Anderson wrangles even the supremely blithe Bill
Murray into scenes of affecting self-awareness; and the plot
of The Darjeeling Limited is strung along an explicit
mission of self-discovery.
So, it’s not so odd, really, that his latest features a fox
in an existential crisis.
am I, Kylie?” Mr. Fox (George Clooney) asks of his spaced-out
opossum friend. “Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle?”
Since giving up his chicken- (and duck- , and cider- ) stealing
ways at the request of his wife, Felicity (Meryl Streep),
Mr. Fox has been supporting his family as, of all things,
a journalist. But he is unfulfilled. How can a fox be happy,
after all, “without a chicken is his teeth?”
So, Mr. Fox engineers a showdown—which begins as a riff on
the “one last job” motif—with the three biggest, and meanest,
farmers in his area. This daring raid escalates rapidly, and
soon Mr. Fox, his family and the entire community of animals
are engaged in a full-on war with the vengeful Boggis, Bunce
One of the great delights of Anderson’s films is his eye for
detail and the intricacy of his set design. In Fantastic
Mr. Fox, that richness is more effective than ever. In
his live-action films, some viewers find such deliberate artifice
crowded, distracting and twee (I am not one of those viewers,
it should be said); in this stop-motion animation, though,
it lends an atmosphere that is almost naturalistic.
The voice acting, too, is spot on. In the title role, Clooney
wisely eschews the affectations and accents that have marred
some of his recent comedic work; Jason Schwartzman (who I
am increasingly loath to look at) is excellent as Fox’s seething,
oddball son; and a handful of Anderson’s go-to friends and
family (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, non-pros Eric Chase Anderson,
Wally Wollordarsky), offer perfect, funny and believable performances.
Yes, believable badgers, etc.
Anderson and cowriter Noah Baumbach worked from Roald Dahl’s
children’s novel of the same name (though there are significant
differences, including an alternate ending written and discarded
by Dahl). Given Dahl’s habitual style, some grisly scenes
might be expected; indeed, one woman in the post-show lobby
asked, breathlessly, “Did you think that would be so rough?”
But neither I nor my 5- and 7-year-old companions knew what
she was talking about.
Mr. Fox is fun and appropriate for younger audiences (it’s
far less violent than, say, the antics of the comparatively
unself-reflecting Bugs Bunny); and possessed of enough subtlety
and wit (and a Jarvis Cocker cameo!) to keep the accompanying
adults from wanting to poke out their own eyes/ears.
by John Lee Hancock
Based on a true story, The Blind Side is the uplifting
saga of a poor, homeless black kid, a gentle giant named Michael
Oher (quiet Quinton Aaron), who is adopted by a caring, Christian,
and rich white family. He becomes a star high-school and college
football player, and eventually, a first-round National Football
League draft pick.
It’s a box-office smash. Everyone loves it—even though it’s
ultimately as appalling as it is uplifting.
The uplifting part: the story of how this kid, “Big Mike,”
becomes part of the Tuohy family. He’s a huge 17-year-old
with clear athletic potential, but that’s not why they take
him in. The matriarch of the Tuohys, Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock),
likes and admires Michael for his kindness, thoughtfulness,
neediness—what parent can resist a little neediness?—and his
protective nature. There are no adjustment problems; despite
the casual racism of their friends, the Tuohys do not hesitate
to make Michael part of their family.
Bullock is terrific as a brittle Southern Belle who sees only
solutions, not problems. She shuns her usual mannerisms, including
the self-deprecating clumsiness that tends to undermine her
dignity. The rest of the cast is good, too, including a laid-back
Tim McGraw (as papa Tuohy) and a hyper Ray McKinnon (as the
The problem is with the film’s simple-minded approach to,
well, everything. The title has a double meaning. As Bullock
explains in the opening narration (over footage of a really
ugly, legendary football injury), “the blind side” refers
to what a quarterback can’t see, and the need for a big, but
fleet, offensive player to guard the quarterback. The title
also refers to the sheltered Tuohys, who have no awareness
of the lives of the poor folks on the other side of town.
Writer-director John Lee Hancock has a knack for sports stories;
he directed the entertaining baseball flick The Rookie.
He can’t get beyond the most stereotypical depictions of anyone,
however—and this includes the white folks. The problem arises
when the film descends into the world of crackheads and drug
dealers, and Hancock leaves any empathy or fairness behind.
The film’s framing device is designed to smooth out any pesky
nuances, and, almost incidentally, depicts the only credible
black authority figure as a complete bitch.
After the happy ending, the film at least sticks to its simple-minded
essence in an odd, offensive coda. Narrating again, as at
the beginning, Bullock’s Leigh Anne ponders a newspaper account
of a murdered youth from Michael’s old neighborhood; the story
refers to the young man’s unfulfilled athletic talent, which,
it is suggested, might have taken him out of the gangs and
on to the gridiron. Given the slim odds of “athletic talent”
being a viable ticket out of poverty for the vast majority
of poor kids, this observation is worse than a bad joke. It
reveals an ignorance—a blind side?—that’s a kind of prejudice
And the bright side? At least the Tuohys now know where football
players come from.