Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox


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**** 1/2 out of *****

As “Dora the Explorer” has taught legions of children and college students with free mornings, foxes are mischievous. But can a fox with a family give up his thieving ways and live life on the straight and narrow?

This conflict is at the heart of Wes Anderson’s latest and perhaps greatest, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Adapted from the Roald Dahl book, the film centers on the titular Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) who, unlike Dora’s nemesis, Swiper, is an expert thief. After he and his wife (Meryl Streep) are captured during a failed heist, Mr. Fox decides to give up thievery to become a much-maligned newspaper columnist.

The Fox family lives in a hole in the ground, but the family patriarch wants something more. On a lark, he purchases a home in a tree, right across the field from the farmers Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and Bean (Michael Gambon).

Eventually, Mr. Fox decides to pull one last job, stealing food and booze from the three farmers to provide for his family. High jinks, as they often do, ensue, and Mr. Fox must deal with the irate farmers as they try to kill him and all the other animals on their side of the river.

The story may be a characteristic Roald Dahl fable, but as a film, Fantastic Mr. Fox is classic Wes Anderson. The characters are quirky and cool, yet somewhat stupid, as in most of Anderson’s creations. The scenery and puppets used in the stop-motion animation are beautifully rendered and complex, but somehow manage to retain the simplicity necessary for a children’s film.

Anderson has created an engaging world in Fantastic Mr. Fox, bringing the book to life in a fun way reminiscent of the “Wallace and Gromit” series of cartoons. The characters live their lives in fox time (a shorter subset of human time), and the movie is filled with not just foxes but a whole host of other animals, each with its own profession. A rabbit chef, a badger lawyer, and opossum fisherman Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), among others, help establish a fully imagined animal world in which it is all too easy to become immersed.

The script, written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, remains faithful to Dahl’s book, illuminating the playfulness and childishness of the story while leaving in plenty for adults who will see the movie with their kids.

If Anderson’s writing and directing of the movie was brilliant (and it was), then the voice acting was even more so. Clooney’s Mr. Fox is a sly, charming devil of a thief, and Streep is wonderful as his wife and foil. Longtime Anderson stalwart Jason Schwartzman plays Mr. Fox’s bumbling son Ash — a wannabe athlete with little in the way of skill — in a way that makes him bitter yet endearingly funny.

A cast of minor characters headed by Bill Murray as Clive Badger and Gambon’s Bean fleshes out the imaginative story, greatly adding to the fun of the film.

Fantastic Mr. Fox puts the viewer — whether child or adult — completely in the world of the Fox family, and ranks with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums as one of Wes Anderson’s best movies.

The universe of Mr. Fox is indeed a fantastic one.

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