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Film Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson)
Rating: ★★★★½

From his indie breakthrough feature Bottle Rocket though 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson has made a name as one of the indie film world’s most polarizing directors.  Either you buy into his quirkiness and off-the-wall humor and “just go with it” or you don’t.  My love of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has been met with blank stares by a number of friends and acquaintances.

Anderson’s new film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, adapted rather loosely from Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s book of the same name, is unlikely to do anything to change anyone’s mind about Anderson’s unique sensibility.   But for moviegoers attuned to his love of goofballs and eccentrics and his knack for inventive dialogue, it must rank as one of his finest achievements.

Painstakingly produced over a number of years, first in tandem with Henry Selick, who left the project to work on his own Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows the adventures of the title character, a reformed chicken thief turned family fox, who, restless with middle age, decides to pull one last grand heist at the expense of Boggis, Bunce and Bean, three unsavory local mega-farmers.

Using stop-motion techniques, beautifully crafted dolls and a stunning variety of miniature sets, Anderson succeeds in drawing the viewer completely into Mr. Fox’s world.  He is helped in no small part by a number of outstanding voice performances, most notably George Clooney as Mr. Fox — self-confident to a fault and possessing a devilish charm.  Meryl Streep’s Mrs. Fox is a down-to-earth contrast to Mr. Fox’s lofty plans and schemes.  A number of other Anderson regulars are on hand as well, including Jason Schwartzman as the couple’s son Ash and Bill Murray as Mr. Fox’s attorney, Badger.  Owen Wilson has a brief turn as Coach Skip, who teaches young Ash and his visiting cousin Kristofferson to play whackabat, a ludicrous cross between cricket and quidditch.

Naturally, Mr. Fox’s brilliant plan begins to unravel, and the second half of the film finds he and his family and friends in dire straits, pursued to ridiculous lengths by the three vengeful farmers.  The jerky style of stop-motion animation would not seem to be conducive to telling a story with a great deal of emotional heft, but the relationships between the animal characters – most notably between Mr. and Mrs. Fox and between Mr. Fox and Ash – are so beautifully drawn that you may find yourself investing as much or more in this animal family as you would in any human family.  The figures, faces, fur and eyes have a remarkably lifelike quality.  For those who associate stop-motion animation with hokey claymation or third-rate film school projects, this is art of a different order.

So the question remains, “Is this a movie for kids?”  For those raised on Pixar and Disney, it certainly could be a bit of shock to the system.  But for me (and my kids, age seven and nine, who loved the film), Fantastic Mr. Fox is a welcome antidote to the slew of cookie-cutter CGI features coming out of Hollywood.

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One Response to “Film Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox”

  1. November 30th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    ITPRAYERYNUME says:

    This is an excellent review.

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