It’s quite a year to be a talking fox in Hollywood. After a long absence these carnivorous mammals are coming back strong with a surreal cameo in “Antichrist” (“Chaos Reigns!”) and now a starring role in a charming new stop-motion animation from director Wes Anderson, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
Loosely based on a Roald “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Dahl story of the same name, the story involves Mr. Fox (George Clooney) a smooth talking chicken thief who is part Danny Ocean, part John Robie (look it up!). When a chicken run goes wrong and he and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) get busted he tries to go straight, but after buying a tree house he can’t afford he decides to return to a life of crime for one last big job. He sets his sights on the area’s three biggest and baddest farmers: Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon).
This has been an extraordinary year for kid’s filmed entertainment. “Up,” “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Coraline” are about as good as it gets when it comes to family films. They are movies that don’t talk down to their young audience; treat them with respect and give them a rollicking good time. You can add “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to that list.
Wes Anderson’s mix of deliberately old-school stop motion animation—you can see the fur moving where the animators have touched the puppet characters—gentle humor and action is unlike any other movie this year. In its pacing and style it is decidedly old fashioned, a throw back to the colorful Rankin and Bass animated Christmas specials, but without the schmaltz. I doubt you’d find an existential line like, “Now he’s just another dead rat in a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant” in any other vintage stop motion film for kids and it is that edge that sets “Fantastic Mr. Fox” apart from the pap, like the recent “Astro Boy,” that passes for kid flicks.
You can tell it’s a Wes Anderson film because it’s loaded with his trademark subjects—sibling rivalry and unusual parental figures abound—and it has his quirky sensibility stamped all over it—there’s a transcendentally meditating fox!—but it is the vocal performances that really bring it to life.
George Clooney brings charm, wit and warmth to Mr. Fox. He’s an unpredictable character, smooth one minute, a wild animal the next, and Clooney gives him a nice sense of mischievousness. Meryl Streep doesn’t have as much to do, but it’s worth the price of admission to hear this celebrated actress (15 Oscar nominations and 2 wins) say, “Am I being flirted with by a psychotic rat?” The deliberate, naturalistic dialogue also comes easily to supporting cast members Bill Murray, Michael Gambon and Eric Anderson (brother of Wes) who makes his debut as Kristofferson, the athletic cousin.
Its stylish looks, engaging story and over-all wonky feel made me very happy. There are few kid’s films as fantastic as “Mr. Fox.”