- Rated PG
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All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
nlike last month’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” which was also based on a popular children’s book, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is very much for kids and adults alike. Well, not exactly, but while Spike Jonze’s dark exploration of a child’s psyche was never really made for kids to begin with, they'll probably get a kick out of Wes Anderson’s film – even if they don’t completely understand it. Still, if there was ever a movie that finally removed the stigma that animated films were strictly for kids, this is it, because while “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a child’s tale at heart, it’s as witty, sophisticated, and quirky as anything that Anderson has ever done.
Based on Roald Dahl’s original story, the film differs slightly in that it prefaces the main tale with an entire first act of background info on the titular character. When we first meet Mr. Fox (George Clooney), he’s preparing to embark on a raid of the local squab coop with his wife (Meryl Streep), but after they’re caught in a trap, she makes him promise that if they escape, he’ll give up his larcenous career for something a little less dangerous. Flash-forward a few years later and Mr. Fox is now father to a pint-sized son (Jason Schwartzman) and working as a columnist for the town paper. Nevertheless, his animal instinct can’t be contained, and with the help of his new opossum friend, Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox begins secretly raiding the farms of three of the nastiest men in the valley – Burgis, Bunce and Bean – who in turn devise a dastardly plan to kill Mr. Fox that puts the entire animal community in danger.
That may sound about as exciting as a nature special, but Anderson turns it into a hilarious crime caper, with Mr. Fox assuming the role of a Danny Ocean-like character as he enlists the help of his fellow critters to fight back against the farmers. What makes it all work is the decision to give the animals more human characteristics, while still utilizing their wild animal traits to comedic effect. Watching Mr. Fox speak Latin one minute and devour a stack of pancakes the next is certainly humorous, but not nearly as much as the addition of PG-friendly swearing. Taking a page out of the sci-fi television handbook, the film’s use of “cuss” in place of more colorful language is not only appropriate to the tone of the story, but it's so funny that it might become the new “frak.”
The script by Anderson and fellow filmmaker Noah Baumbach is filled with all kinds of great dialogue, but it’s the voice cast that really brings it to life. George Clooney is as fantastic in his role as the character he’s playing, making the most of his movie star charm and comic wit, while Jason Schwartzman steals the show as his oddball son. The real highlight of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” however, is the animation. While Anderson could have easily gone the CG route like most animated movies these days, he’s chosen to film it in stop-motion instead, and it looks absolutely incredible. Then again, are you really surprised that a director best known for going against the grain has done just that with his first animated film? It’s not exactly a shocking revelation, but the idea that Anderson could create a movie so accessible without surrendering his quirky sensibility is, and that's what makes “Fantastic Mr. Fox” one of his best films to date.
Three-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
It might not look like much, but 20th Century Fox has done a bang-up job with the film’s Blu-ray release, which also includes a DVD and digital copy. Though extras like “A Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat” and “The World of Roald Dahl” aren’t nearly as great as they could be, the 45-minute “Making Mr. Fox Fantastic” featurette more than makes up for it. The six-part documentary offers a fascinating look at just how much work goes into a stop-motion animated film – from the detailed production design and Wes Anderson’s unique director videos, to the construction of all the puppets in their various sizes. Still think Anderson wasn’t involved enough as a director? You won't after this.