Fantastic Mr. Fox (20th Century)
Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor.
Starring (voices) George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Jarvis Cocker,
Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Helen McCrory, Michael Gambon, Robin Hurlstone, Hugo Guinness.
Written by Wes Anderson, based on the novel by Roald Dahl.
Directed by Wes Anderson
Animated features have come a long way over the past 2 decades. Just when it seemed producers had exhausted all animated technology at their disposal (like computer-generated animation, 3D and others), along comes Wes Anderson with the animated feature Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the children's novel by Roald Dahl. With so many technological tools at his disposal, Anderson's homage to the low-tech method of stop-motion animation might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but perhaps the dying art is due for a comeback.
George Clooney voices Mr. Fox, a humanoid yet erect-walking fox who sustains a living by stealing chickens and other farm items. Fox is married to Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) who urges the career thief to settle down and take on a less dangerous career. Mrs. Fox's main motivation for promoting a more sedentary lifestyle: She is pregnant with her first cub.
Flashing forward two years (12 fox years), and with the help of their attorney Badger (voiced by Bill Murray) the couple settles into a tree house. Fox is now a journalist, and all seems well until he gets restless, longing to return to his wild fox ways and natural gifts for agricultural larceny. Fox enlists the help of his best buddy Kylie (an opossum, voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky) as an accomplice in his naughty activities.
Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Fox's teen aged son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) has feelings of inadequacy as his talented, dynamic cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes for an extended stay because his father has pneumonia. Ash has issues with Kris, and the two boys experience a lot of tense, competitive moments. Mr. Fox doesn't help much, either by heaping praise on his nephew whenever he can.
During raids on local human farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean, Fox, Kylie and Kris (who is allowed to come along since he is so much more gifted than Ash) barely escape detection except for brief encounters with Rat (Willem Dafoe) and Farmer Bean's wife.
After one raid, Fox's tail is shot off by Bean (Michael Gambon) outside his tree house. The family escapes by burrowing underground, but the farmers use huge tractors and explosive to follow them. The foxes dig deeper, eventually encountering Badger and several other creatures who are starving after being driven from their homes because of the devastation caused by the farmers.
To make amends, Fox organizes more raids on the farmers' chicken, geese and cider supplies to help the refugees. When Ash and Kris try to retrieve Mr. Fox's tail (which Bean is using as a necktie), Kris is captured by the farmers, and Fox must decide whether to sacrifice himself for the good of the community, save his nephew, or save his own hide. After a daring rescue, Fox and his friends retreat underground again, looking for greener pastures via the sewers.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a movie that lives up to its name. Wes Anderson's quirky, yet unique brand of charming humor makes Fox one of the best animated features ever. The afore-mentioned low-tech stop-motion animation is a perfect fit for Roald Dahl's tale of wild animals finding their humanity. To me, the rough animation style actually becomes an integral character in the story.
There are plenty of laughs for kids and adults alike, mostly because of a talented voice cast that didn't just show up for a paycheck. Clooney is perfect as the mischievous Fox, and delivers his rapid-fire lines with just the right amount of irony, much like he did in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Schwartzman is also terrific as Ash, and retains his role as sardonic keeper of the Wes Anderson franchise. Other actors put a lot of themselves into their voice work, including Bill Murray as Badger, Michael Gambon as Farmer Bean Streep as Mrs. Fox, and Willem Dafoe as Rat. Wes' brother Eric is also very funny as overachieving Kristofferson.
Anderson's hilarious script is another great achievement for the quirky film auteur. One comical gimmick throughout the movie is the use of the word "cuss" whenever a character might really use a cuss-word, like "What the cuss are you doing?" or "Get the cuss out of here."
For what it's worth, I think Fantastic Mr. Fox is one cussing adorable movie, and one of the best of the year.
Go see it this holiday weekend, and take the whole family.