Freeze Frame: More Impressive Than Your Average Fantastic Fox

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Every Monday with “Freeze Frame,” we break down our very favorite sci-fi/fantasy/adventure moments – the scenes that we look forward to, that remind us why we so love this job. As you might guess, such discussions are riddled with spoilers. So consider yourself warned. (See previous Freeze Frame features here.)

The Oscars are coming up Sunday night, and it’s a good year for sci-fi at the big dance. (We’ll be writing plenty more about that in the days to come)

Avatar is being bandied about as a leading candidate for best picture. In a year with 10 best picture nominees, I firmly believe that any title could run away with the prize, as votes are split between more nominees than ever before. Which means that District 9 has an outside shot. Even Star Trek gets into the action, with a visual effects nomination.

But out of all the close races Sunday night, you know the one guaranteed winner? Up, for best animated feature. Overshadowing the brilliant Ponyo, which was denied even a nomination, and the nightmarish Coraline, Pixar’s latest film is nominated for both best picture and best animated feature. Meaning it will win the latter, hands down. Come Sunday, Up gets a trophy.

Buried in the list of other hopeless animated nominees is Fantastic Mr. Fox, one of 2009’s most stunning visual accomplishments. Stop-action animation meets Wes Anderson’s comic sensibilities, and also one of the more impressive ensembles of vocal performers ever assembled, to deliver a movie that I absolutely fell in love with. I saw it thrice in the movie theater, twice projected digitally, and I know there are lots of emotional and technical reasons to love “Up.” But if my head goes with Pixar, my heart goes with Anderson, and his ragtag group of animal mischiefs. Sure, Up is a great film, but it’s Fox that I want to see again and again. (More at Techland: Percy Jackson and the all-time best sci-fi child heroes)

The most poignant, riveting and ultimately hilarious moment of the film is found right near the end of the adventure. After escaping from the rapid farmers who want him dead, Mr. Fox is motorcycling biking his way back to his animal clan when he spots the dreaded wolf off in the distance. The king of all animals. He stops the bike and calls out to the wolf, in various languages, with various greetings. The wolf doesn’t respond. All Mr. Fox knows is that he’s in awe of this creature, who is so much more regal and mysterious than a bland old fox. This wolf is what Mr. Fox aspires to – the gold standard of wildlife royalty.

So as the noise dies down, the wind whips up, and the wolf’s flur flaps in the breeze, Mr. Fox finally gives up on trying to communicate and simply raises his fist, in one last fleeting attempt at a collegial greeting. The wolf raises his fist as well. The two are brothers, even if they do exist at opposite ends of the wildlife kingdom.

I love this moment. It is at once hilarious in its timing, and sweet in its message. Mr. Fox has fixated on this encounter, and obsessed so relentlessly about this wolf, that he has exaggerated the creature all out of proportion. The fox doesn’t think he can ever live up to this beast, but one simple gesture proves that they are colleagues. Equals. And a fox’s realization that he is no less – or more – than his icon hints to the audience that we are all amazing beings as well, underselling ourselves while overhyping others.

It’s a great scene in a great movie – a movie that not nearly enough people saw. Hopefully that changes March 23rd, when Fantastic Mr. Fox is released on DVD. Below: Our video from last fall, about the film: