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By Matthew Sorrento | November 25, 2009

If Wes Anderson was once offered an interior design scholarship, I’d say he missed his true calling. The guy has a great eye and can turn any concept into a distinct visual. But, in the name of Andy Warhol, Anderson just cannot tell a story. At times I wonder why he makes narrative films at all, and doesn’t just go work in still photography already. Oh right – because he’s convinced so many that style allows for zero substance.

Occasionally from his work emerges an interesting character study, as with “Rushmore,” in which Max’s brattiness had substance and purpose, or “The Darjeeling Limited,” with its intriguing relationships between three brothers. In the meantime, we have to suffer playtime like “Bottle Rocket,” which delights in throwing the heist tradition into the mud. I’m still unsure which is the grander study in cinematic pointlessness: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” which convinced me that Anderson holds Bill Murray under some kind of spell; or “The Royal Tenenbaums,” a family drama that tosses drama for human marionettes in trippy set-pieces.

Now, critics galore are fawning over Anderson’s move to animation. Why all the fuss? – the man’s been staging puppet shows for years. In the name of hollow irony – on which too much of “hipster” culture subsists – this filmmaker specializes in filling elegant, multicolored balloons with stale air. In “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” they loom all the more hollow.

Not that Anderson’s foxes and beasts aren’t diverting to watch – at first. They appear to step to some unheard jazz beat, and their fur shimmers in its own little dance. I bet Roald Dahl would have found their design rewarding – right before he’d grab Wes by his ascot and hang him from the floodlights.

I’d say the beasts would make a fine subject for a children’s animated short. But in feature length, they fall short of any purpose. A fine cast – perhaps Anderson’s greatest trick – once again appears, and I’d guess that George Clooney (Mr. Fox), that reactionary activist, signed on as a big F You to the studio establishment. Meryl Streep probably thought it would be a fun stunt, while Murry is still mesmerized. As for Willem Dafoe, that talented enigma of a performer, his involvement in von Trier’s “Antichrist” leaves a universe of questions unanswered.

Anderson passes humor so dry it makes Norm Macdonald’s standup seem like honey. The animals are often caught in a stare as if they, too, are looking for the tale that Anderson forgot. If you are curious about the plot’s details, in which Clooney’s Fox strives to chicken-theft, consult any Anderson narrative that blindly walks characters through running time. As Zissou escapes pirates and the Tenenbaum’s doggie goes splat, so does this film progress, haphazardly and amusing to only its creator.

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  1. Anna says:

    My youngest, a daughter, dearly adored it, and my son, two years her senior, remained indifferent. My word, it was a rather pithy, nihilistic and seemingly ponderous affair for the young. Of course, I am not a child, and my youngest was positively captivated, with many ensuing rewinds. In the end, however, I am partisan indeed. Never a grand lover of Roald Dahl, in my thoughts the apparently dismal picture to its name is far preferred to the book itself.

  2. VJ says:

    Ah. Relief. I confess I felt a bit of a freak for not just falling in love with this movie like, it seemed, everyone else did. I see now that I’m not the only one who was deeply disappointed after the dozens of misty-eyed reviews.

    The acting, set design, and animation were phenomenal, and there were some funny moments, but in my house, literally no one liked it. One person dozed off. And we’re all adults. I can’t wrap my brain around how a child could’ve found this movie entertaining.

    I can certainly appreciate a good movie, and usually I agree with the review aggregators, but I have got to dissent on this one. I just don’t see what it was that people so adored. I found it poorly-paced, disjointed, and rather hackneyed. It kept screaming in my face, “Look at these amazing morals! Look how cussing quirky we are!” Okay, I got it. Now how about some significant story? Character development that isn’t as shallow as a saucer? Okay, how about a single major character who’s not a stereotype? No?

    And, to those of you who think that someone who simply disagrees with the majority on what is ultimately a matter of taste is automatically stupid or bad at their job… wow. Just wow. So you’ve enjoyed everything that’s ever been been popular, have you? Thought they were all above criticism? Awesome, way to think for yourself, my friend.

    Me, I give someone who has reasonable criticisms even of something I really like the benefit of the doubt and a reasonable level of respect.

  3. Alan says:

    He doesnt get it… oh well theres always 1 special kid in the class

  4. Dan says:

    “But, in the name of Andy Warhol, Anderson just cannot tell a story.”

    This sentence pretty much proves that you have no business reviewing films. But if you continue on, try reviewing the actual movie instead of the director’s career, for God’s sake. (And for the record, I’m not a big Wes Anderson fan.)

  5. Soitanae Gethaiga says:

    Wow.. Fact: Haters get more press.
    And Matt’s hate is the only reason i’m fired up enough to say something (don’t judge me)

    This film is the best. Granted,i don’t think it’s directed at 9 and 4 year olds,and children in general…good thing i’m not a child then.

    Matt simply didn’t like the film…it washed over him. Case in point,the off-handed way he ridicules the “vacant stares” as if they appeared in the film by mistake. Such subtle comedic timing isn’t enjoyed by everyone.

    This film is pithy and light all at once. The lies and kindness Fox shows towards Rat at the end of the hilarious spaghetti western showdown. Just one of the reasons i’m watching this film again.

    Poa sana (A+)

  6. chas_m says:

    I found the film mildly entertaining, but I agree with a lot of what Sorrento says about it (and Wes Anderson generally).

    What mainly annoyed ME about the film — a point Sorrento doesn’t even go into — is the HUGE deviation from the original story to the point where the book now has only passing resemblance to the film. A real missed opportunity, especially when Anderson’s own contributions to the script add nothing — NOTH-ING — to it.

  7. andy says:

    Sounds biased in my opinion. The one flaw that separates bad reviewers from good reviewers.

  8. Ike Iszany says:

    Remind me I never want to see a movie with this guy.

  9. Elijah says:

    This is a brilliant review. I have to write a report on this film for a class, and I can honestly say it was a nightmare. I don’t know where Anderson gets off by just having a visually appealing world. To have a good movie, you have to have a good story. He failed on both counts. With all the great actors, his talent at the characters he created, and how good the book was, I was amazed at how much of a waste all 87 minutes spent watching it was. No dishonor to Wes himself, I have no doubt He is a great guy, and great at creating his worlds. But please, don’t let him write the story or the words.

  10. Steve Fishman says:

    I’m a bit late to the party but only just got round to seeing this film on DVD last night. Well, I pretty much agree with your review. I’d seen the great ratings on IMDB, rottentomatoes etc. and having seen the film am flummoxed.
    I found it very (that’s VERY) dry. It’s a black comedy for adults, not a kids film. I watched it with my kids – they thought it was rubbish and were quite disappointed. It never reeled them in and kept them gripped like a good kids film should. Or any film for that matter. It’s stand-offish, reflective, stilted, ponderous, boring.
    The book is a fantastic read – short, quirky, but flows nicely. It’s over quickly but leaves you with a smile on your face.
    The film just left me non-plussed.
    I remember seeing The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and found that disappointing too. Am I supposed to read something into a gormless stare into the distance? Maybe it’s for people who need a couple of seconds to get what’s happening.
    Put it this way. About 10 minutes into Fantasic Mr Fox my 5 year old asked when something interesting was going to happen. My 4 year old got bored because he didn’t quite get what was happening and my 9 year old, who has read most of Roald Dahls million books, complained that it wasn’t as good as the book.
    Maybe all the good ratings are from slow adults and not switched on kids.

  11. Amy R. Handler says:

    I agree that attention should not be focussed upon the critic, but the film and its makers! Any criticism is the writer’s opinion which you can either agree with or not. My favorite criticisms are those that are professionally written and present a well researched argument. These will hopefully, lead to a discussion about the FILM and its success or failure. I also think a good critic makes a potential viewer curious enough to see a specific film—whether or not the viewer will agree with the critique afterward.

  12. CH says:

    Wow, are these comments serious? So for the people that disagreed, they attacked Sorrento and the other people who also disagreed pretty much fed his ego. “The Fantastic Mr. Sorrento” – really? I don’t agree with this review at all, but a lot (not all) of these comments seem to be focusing on the critic and not the movie. If you didn’t like the review, say why you thought the movie was good and if you did like the review then just agree. If you disagreed with the review but like the critic, then I don’t really see the point in posting here. In my opinion, feeding a movie critic’s ego is extremely dangerous.

    I posted a comment a while back on this review, before Film Threat went down. I thought this was one Anderson’s best films. The charm and whimsy this film has was very heart warming. I’ve seen the movie twice now and I still laughed out loud several times, but that could be personal preference as the humor was right up my alley. Do I think the plot was supposed to be some deep, philosophical, life changing story? No. But it felt more like a children’s storybook made for adults and I greatly enjoyed this aspect of the film.

  13. Matthew Sorrento says:

    Bobby, Doug, and all the other sane folk here — thank you for the comments. I’m glad to see that these FMF fans aren’t ready to take up arms for Wes and his foxes.

  14. Doug Brunell says:

    I did not realize there was a controversy about this, but it is amusing. Amazing what happens when you dislike a movie someone else enjoys and then articulate your point. Honestly, it’s amazing how easy it is to piss someone off without even trying. To accuse the critic of giving a negative review simply to get some readers is ridiculous, though. That would destroy all credibility.

    I actually enjoyed this film, and don’t fully agree with the review here. That said, it was well-written and definitely does not seem like it was designed to fish for readers.

  15. Robert Emmons says:

    ‘Tis quite interesting and encouraging that this discussion continues. I mean, this is what it’s all about, right? The ongoing discussion of cinema?

    While I think the debate/issue with visitor Tim Emmerson has passed, let me say this:

    I consider myself a close and personal friend of the critic, Mr. Sorrento. I value his opinion and look forward to his thoughts on film. However, I couldn’t disagree more with his opinion of Mr. Anderson and his films. Especially Mr. Fox.

    Mr. Sorrento knows this, we’ve had the debate. We often debate, and we often agree. He informs me, I inform him, and together we make a contribution to this thing: the movies!

    And while we may disagree, this is not cause for me to never speak to him again, or turn away from his writing. In fact, it’s what keeps me coming back…

  16. Amy R. Handler says:

    Yikes, what a controversy! I guess I’ll finally have to give in and see this film. I’d been dreading it because I’m not a huge fan of either
    Streep or Clooney. I do love Willem Dafoe, however, and he’s probably reason enough! My feeling about The Fantastic Mr. Sorrento is that he’s done a stupendous job as a critic. No matter how it’s done, if a critic can convince one person to see a film, he or she has succeeded!

  17. Matthew Sorrento says:

    Wow — look what I’ve been missing! The Fantastic Mr. Fox thread is alive and kicking.
    You Fox lovers: ever sat though a moving that annoyed you at every turn? Perhaps you decided to take notes on what bothered you about it and make an argument against it? Well, that’s all I did. Honestly, I was looking forward to this film — who wouldn’t for a Dahl adaptation? But then I found it to be pretty stale. Out of all the support for this film and Anderson, no one’s countered the claim that this film is style sans any substance. I’m all ears….

  18. Henry says:

    Mark is obviously Matthew’s gay lover.

    Matthew attacked this movie like he was out to get Anderson. I imagine that he sat down to this movie, pen and paper in hand, to point out all things that nag him. Get creative and tell people why they should and why they shouldn’t divulge time into Fantastic Mr. Fox.

  19. Not Mark Bell says:

    Matt, Mark Bell is your biggest fan

  20. Felix Vasquez Jr. says:

    Hear hear. Just let him have his opinion and live with it. I don’t agree with him, but I’m not about to bitch about it.

  21. Mark Bell says:

    I guess it’s an old debate, really. If it’s a subjective opinion about art, and the majority of people feel one way and you feel the other, does it make you wrong? Should it always be the majority groupthink mode that wins out? And if you still don’t agree, aren’t you doing it just to be contrary, or have other motives? I guess, ultimately… why can’t Matt just not like this movie? Why does it have to be more complicated than that?

  22. Save Yer Machine says:

    How odd. I adored this incredibly charming movie, and found myself laughing out loud one moment and then hushed by any one of its many surprisingly emotional exchanges the next. That’s despite the fact that I watched it alone–I only mention this because my emotional reaction to a movie is usually subdued when I’m the entire audience.

    I don’t want to take a side in the debate that’s emerged in these comments, where the author of the review is being accused of Metacritic traffic-whoring; I just don’t know enough to have a meaningful opinion on the topic. I do sincerely believe that this review is far out of step with a majority of people who watch movies, which is to say that, whoever you are, the odds are good that you won’t feel the same way about Fantastic Mr Fox as Matthew Sorrento did.

  23. Felix Vasquez Jr. says:

    I’m with you jq, I never understood the big deal behind Rushmore. It’s okay, but not amazing.

  24. jq says:

    I’m not a Wes Anderson hater, but what is with the blind devotion to him? I guess he paints a picture of a world that all of hipsterdom would like to inhabit.

    As a brief film review, I found this review by Matthew Sorrento quite insightful and entertaining. I was fairly ambivalent with this film, but leaning more towards Matthew’s take. I do agree a great deal with his assessment of Anderson’s body of work. (He’s let me down on the promise of Rushmore.) If Matthew says it with fervor and color does that make any less valid as an opinion? He seems to have the knowledge to back it up. If he was just calling him names, then that’s one thing. His opinion. I disagree with Roger Ebert about half the time, but I still read his writings.

    You can disagree with him, but maybe engage in some dialog instead making false accusations about intent and motives.

    Anyways, good read. Thanks.

  25. Felix Vasquez Jr. says:

    Oddly enough, we’re not losing anything of actual value. Bye, Tim.

  26. Mark Bell says:

    Bye, Tim. Shame you’re skipping out on over 10+ years of online writing, 25 years total of Film Threat, because you disagreed with one review. Is the world so cynical as to REALLY think Matt faked disliking this movie? Why can’t he just dislike it as much as he does? And does the Metacritic score have any bearing on Wes Anderson’s career? So what if Matt’s review lowered the score? Does the movie with the best score win anything? No? Then WHO CARES!?!

    Matt and I are polar opposites when it comes to the Wes Anderson films we enjoy. This leads me to believe I will like this flick, if I ever watch it. He didn’t like it. It’s no more sinister than that. It didn’t get us more traffic. Move on, it’s just a movie review.

  27. Tim Emmerson says:

    This review may not have been written with the express intention of appearing on but by it’s tone (a subtle envy hidden behind not-so-subtle vitriol) it guaranteed the author more exposure than had he written something more in line the aggregate score. To be a whopping FORTY points lower than the second lowest score says more about Sorrento than it does about Anderson. The world is, sadly, filled with angry, bitter people who, because of one reason or another failed to fulfill their dream. Most grumble quietly and go about their lives; some are unwisely given a soapbox to take shots at anyone they feel superior to. There is absolutely nothing in this movie that would merit such a low score. Debating story aside, the animation style alone is worth of much more than a mere 20 percent. Sorrento (if I’m remebering his name correctly) has a good ‘voice’; unfortunately, he abuses it. There is ONE good comment I can say – this review has saved me the time of ever bothering with this site again.

  28. Mark Bell says:

    No one “posts” on Metacritic; they independently decide what critics and critical outlets they want to link to on their site. Disagree with the review, sure, more power to you and anyone else, but don’t pretend it was written out of some silly ulterior motive / traffic strategy.

  29. James says:

    Well done for getting the visitors to your site to increase dramatically by posting the worst review on metacritic!

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