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- Movie: The Fantastic Mr. Fox
- Rating: PG
- Running Time: 1 hrs. 27 min.
- Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Wally Wolodarsky, Michael Gambon, Eric Chase Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray
- Written By: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
- Directed By: Wes Anderson
- Distributor: 20th Century Fox
The Fantastic Mr. Fox Movie Review
It's Kind of Fantastic, Isn't It?
By Rob Vaux
November 23, 2009
Review for THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX(2009).
© Fox/Bob Trate
In a year full of notable animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox plays a terrific trump card to stand out from the pack. Director Wes Anderson evokes an older tradition of stop-motion animation, well-suited to the Roald Dahl children's book on which it is based. It feels like a Rankin-Bass movie from the 1960s, the kind spotted on local TV stations over lazy weekend afternoons and marveled at more for its novelty value than its brilliant filmmaking. Anderson, however, manages to have his cake and eat it too on that front by wrapping an irresistible story into his retro-animated package.
It helps to have such wonderful source material. Though hardy Dahl's most famous story, it's easily one of his best: an extended battle of wills between the clever, cocky Mr. Fox and three horrible English farmers hell-bent on destroying him. Dahl relished the little details--the farmers' sickening meals, Fox's cunning plots, the environs of the three farms where chickens and geese sit waiting to be swiped. Small wonder it appealed to Anderson, who shares a similar fascination with minutiae and who makes the tale definitively his own without discarding Dahl's sensibilities.
The hero is voiced by George Clooney, an ideal actor to embody the character's smug charms. Fox has been king of the hill for so long that the possibility of failure never occurs to him. That chafes when he has to give up his chicken-stealing ways and settle down with Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) to raise their son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). The familial portions of the film rank among its few weak moments--expounding Fox's perceived loss of masculinity while jury-rigging a conflict with Fox the Younger to give the domestic scenes some dramatic heft.
Anderson uses his signature whimsy to blunt the worst of it, but like Where the Wild Things Are, it feels more like an effort to pad the film than a legitimate addition to the story.
Thankfully, it doesn't stay that way. Restless and bored, Mr. Fox soon takes up thieving again, joined by his possum friend Kylie (voiced by Wally Wolodarsky) and targeting the well-guarded larders of his three old nemeses. That's more than the farmers can handle. Led by the sharpshooting Mr. Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon), they promptly declare war on Fox and his family, throwing the entire forest into complete disarray.
Fox's efforts to extradite everyone from the situation entail further embellishment on the Dahl original, but they blend with the source material much more readily than the family stuff. That leaves the structure strong enough to support Anderson's very funny dialogue (one of the film's central selling points). The characters' absurd detachment--they way they comment on life or death situations in their own lives as if they're passive observers--mixes with just enough genuine emotion to keep us grounded, while contributing to the fable-style atmosphere which Dahl worked so hard to create.
The visuals too, make excellent use of Anderson's sensibilities. Scenes of foxes digging madly through the earth, sneaking through various farms and creating elaborate living spaces out of their surrounding environment stem straight from the book, and yet clearly belong to the same universe as the fish in The Life Aquatic and the titular family from The Royal Tenenbaums.
Normally they'd be tedious--all those centered shots and wry asides have been done to death by now--but animation provides a freedom and fluidity that Anderson's earlier efforts simply can't match. Mr. Fox literally careens through the chicken house like an acrobat, unbound by the constraints of the "real" world, which Anderson always struggled against and which he cheerfully discards here. The models themselves contribute further to this process, lending dimensional depth to their universe beyond what even the most sophisticated CGI concepts could hope for. Those old fashioned qualities become part of the charm, along with typical Anderson touches like Burl Ives on the soundtrack and periodic chapter headings describing the action in faux-serious terms.
Beyond that, Fantastic Mr. Fox is just a hoot. Fox's dilemmas hold wit and imagination, his allies and foes are fully fleshed out, and their various clashes carry genuine danger without detracting from the film's overall buoyancy. Energy levels remain high throughout and Anderson maintains that all-important balance between adult sophistication and child-like simplicity. Whether a project of this nature will appeal to the masses has yet to be seen--its retro charms may be lost on an audience used to 21st century CGI--but fans of Dahl's work should be pleased by the results. Indeed, Fantastic Mr. Fox may convince more than a few newcomers to pick up the book for a read… and for a project as entertaining as this one, that's just icing on the cake.