AFI Fest Reviews: THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and THE HOLE

     November 1, 2009

The Fantastic Mr Fox and The Hole slice.jpg

Happy Halloween, Collider readers. Being the kind of guy I am, I’ve decided to forgo the tricks this year and offer up some treats. Specifically, some exclusive coverage of this year’s AFI Fest in Hollywood. Tonight that means two reviews of some of my most anticipated films that made their debuts over the last two nights. First up, we’ve got Wes Anderson’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, followed by Joe Dante’s “The Hole”. Hit the jump to check them out.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox movie poster.jpgFirst things first, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” is oh so much more than its marketing would have you believe. Yes, the trailer is funny and gives you a hint of the film’s tone, but it shows nothing of the character and genuine emotion that the very talented animators were able to coax from those little puppets. This is where this film stands apart from the majority of the animated fare we see coming out of Hollywood, and even gives Pixar a run for their money. The film centers on Mr. Fox (George Clooney), a 7-year-old fox that experiences something of a mid-life crisis when he’s confronted with the choice between continuing his wild ways of chicken-stealing and his responsibility as a father. Much of this can be attributed to the very particular talents of Anderson, but enough credit can’t be given to both the animators and the voice actors for bringing this film to life.

On the voice talent side, we have to start with George Clooney, I swear this man needs to start doing audio books, because his voice is just awesome. He plays the titular Mr. Fox with just the level of swaggering self-confidence that we as an audience expect from Clooney, but does so in such a way that his speech mannerisms become an intrinsic part of the character. The cast is rounded out by some Wes Anderson favorites, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Willem Dafoe as an incredibly creepy, yet awesome rat. Each actor brings an enormous piece of themselves to their performance, while also managing to let themselves fade and let the characters come to life. This is especially true with Dafoe’s Rat and Murray’s Badger, who both have very memorable scenes in the film.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox movie image (1).jpgThe animation in the film is not perfect, and I love it for that. With cutting edge stop animation on display in this year’s “Coraline”, it’s incredible to see a film that manages to look like a stop motion animation that you watched as a child and have magically rediscovered on late-night cable. It’s an amazing vibe that the film manages to project, and that’s mostly due to the incredible and quirky animation. There’s even a bit of a Willis O’Brien homage going on, the finger impressions of the animators appearing in the fur of the stop motion puppets.

The story in the film isn’t the strongest, but as is the case with most Wes Anderson films, it’s the characters that capture attention of the audience, and drive the film forward. The tone of the film is also thoroughly Wes Anderson, complete with a joke about existentialism that I’m sure is already being quoted by Anderson fans. While not necessarily for children, the film definitely has moments that children would enjoy. Bottom line, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a great movie that earns a place next to the best animated films of recent years, and ranks up there with Wes Anderson’s best films.

The Hole 3D movie poster.jpgOkay now, Joe Dante’s “The Hole”, starring Chris Massaglia, Quinn Lord, Haley Bennett, and Teri Polo, is everything I hoped it would be after seeing footage from it at last July’s San Diego Comic-Con, a very fun little horror movie with shades of an Amblin film from the 80’s. I don’t know what Joe Dante has been up to recently, aside from “Loony Toons: Back in Action” (shudder) but it seems he hasn’t lost his footing since “Gremlins” and still knows how to make this kind of picture very well. It’s a perfect film by any stretch, but it’s certainly entertaining and was a great movie to see on Halloween night. The story centers on two brothers (Massaglia and Lord) who discover a, you guessed it, hole in the basement of their new house. Little do they know that the hole is alive, and has the power to bring the greatest fears of its victims to life.

The tone of “The Hole” is pretty much pitch perfect, managing to maintain a balance between horror and family friendly, without sacrificing too much of itself. Dante’s filmography is really on display here, with most of his tricks being used to full effect. Suspense is created masterfully created in several scenes, particularly a scene in which the two boys’ friend, Julie (played by Haley Bennett) is stalked in a school bathroom by a ghostly force. It’s an incredibly effective and atmospheric scene, culminating in one of the scariest shots in the film. There’s also a sequence in which a way too creepy clown doll comes to life that is shot and edited flawlessly, and seems a bit of an homage to Dante’s old friend Steven Spielberg.

The Hole movie image Haley Bennett.jpgNot everything in the film is perfect though, while the youngsters in the leading roles to really well, most of the side and adult characters put in performances that range from stiff to way over the top. I understand that you know you’re in what is essentially a B horror movie and want to have fun with it, but at least try to act like a normal human being in a few scenes. My biggest problem with this film though, is the 3D. It wasn’t needed and didn’t work. Sometimes 3D is wonderful, especially in animated films that benefit greatly from the increased sense of depth, and even “My Bloody Valentine 3D” used the effect well and managed to make it a part of the world of the film. Here in “The Hole”, it comes across as little more than an afterthought that some executive thought would up the film’s potential box office, which is probably true. If “The Final Destination” taught us anything, it’s that a really shitty movie can clean up at the box office if it’s in 3D. It’s nothing that ruins the film, but it is somewhat distracting at its best, and just gives you a headache at its worst.

If you’re a fan of some of Dante’s earlier work, like “The Howling” and “Gremlins”, or you enjoyed Mike Dougherty’s recent “Trick-r-Treat”, then “The Hole” is definitely worth a watch, preferably in a theater because the audience is one of the best aspects of the film. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but it’s damn fun.

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