30 November 2009: Thanksgiving and animation

Friends, I hope that you had a Happy Thanksgiving. Janice and I enjoyed the holiday, despite the long drive from Massachusetts to her grandmother in Pennsylvania and my parents in Virginia, worries about sick nieces, and news of marital strife among our circles of acquaintances. We ate well, caught up on sleep and reading, and managed to avoid the worst traffic. The weather was also pleasant.

Janice and I also screened The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-motion animated fantasy loosely based on the Roald Dahl book. Director Wes Anderson uses many familiar actors for the voice cast, including Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Bill Murray, and Michael Gambon.

Clooney plays the titular character, a snazzily dressed vulpine who retires from stealing chickens before the birth of his son but is tempted back into a life of misadventure by three farms owned by grotesque humans. I thought The Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s script and dialogue were clever, and the two-dimensional flow of the action wasn’t as annoying as some trailers and reviews suggested.

The self-aware hero, use of an Anglo-American cast, and allusions to folklore and caper films were all well-done. The offbeat humor, adult themes, and cheerful soundtrack reminded me of the recent live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.

As with Coraline and Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death, the stop-motion world again demonstrated that there are good alternatives to the current glut of computer-animated 3-D flicks. I’d give The Fantastic Mr. Fox three stars, an 8/10, or a B+. It’s rated PG for cartoony violence. The next animated movie I’ll probably catch in theaters is Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

Speaking of cartoons, I have to note that recent television episodes of Star Wars: Clone Wars have been particularly strong, showing the grit and chaos of battle, as well as the moral erosion of an extended conflict that’s timely as the U.S. reconsiders its
military involvement in the Middle East.

Spectacular Spider-Man has also upped the ante, as Peter Parker’s personal life and numerous foes collided. Unfortunately, the Silver Age-style superhero show may be a casualty of the Marvel/Disney merger. Iron Man: Armored Avengers has been entertaining, despite stiff computer animation and making Tony Stark and
company into teenagers. Marvel’s Super Hero Squad skipped a week for the holiday.

Wolverine and the X-Men also concluded its current season, combining the “Days of Future Past,” “Phoenix Saga,” and “Rise of Apocalypse” storylines from the comics with
mixed results in terms of pacing and character development. The charmingly campy Batman and the Brave and the Bold has been on hiatus. DC/Warner Brothers’ release
of boxed sets of DVDs for Batman: the Animated Series, Superman: the Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited are reminders of the best superhero cartoons of the past decade.

Coming soon: Live-action superheroes and remake reviews!