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Fantastic Mr. Fox Review


RATING:
(4 STARS)

I’m not the biggest Wes Anderson fan. Other than “The Royal Tenenbaums,” I’ve found his work to be one-note and somewhat pretentious. With that said, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” was anything but. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, full of wit and charm. In a year when animation seems to be one-upping itself every week, I can confidently say this is the best animated film of the year.

Based on the book by renowned children’s author Roald Dahl, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Fox (George Clooney and Meryl Streep) and their struggles to keep a family while controlling their wild animal instincts. Mr. Fox is a retired bird thief, but he doesn’t necessarily want to be retired. His wife demanded he find a new career path when she became pregnant with their first child. Two years (twelve fox years) later, Mr. Fox is a newspaperman, and their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is an angsty pre-teen who wears a cape.

Mr. Fox decides to move his family out of its hole and into a nice tree, which happens to be very near the farms of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mr. Fox, with the help of his landlord, an opossum named Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), reverts back to his old ways and devises a master plan to rob the three notoriously mean farmers of their chickens, ducks, and cider. The first two robberies go off without a hitch, but after stealing Bean’s cider, the farmer goes ballistic and decides to do whatever he can to kill the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The film is thematically very similar to Anderson’s previous outings, but toned down a little to make it family friendly (although I definitely wouldn’t say this is a kid’s movie). There is a subplot about Ash struggling to find himself and come out of his cousin Kristofferson’s (Eric Anderson) shadow that is reminiscent of the three brothers in “The Darjeeling Limited,” while Mr. Fox’s inability to truly quit stealing, despite his wife’s pleas, reminded me significantly of Royal Tenenbaum’s penchant for putting himself above his family. In fact, I think if “The Royal Tenenbaums” had been made using stop-motion animation, it might be a whole lot like “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Every actor does exceptional voice work, especially George Clooney. If there is any actor out there more perfect to portray the charismatic, confident Fantastic Mr. Fox, I can’t think of him. Just the fact that we know it is George Clooney (and we do know; his voice is instantly recognizable) makes Mr. Fox seem more charming. Meryl Streep is also terrific, although not used enough. She brings a tenderness to Mrs. Fox that makes her immediately sympathetic. Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray also pop up throughout the picture.

The film has an extremely unique but totally effective look. Besides being stop-motion rather than computer-generated, Anderson also completely saturates the film in autumnal tones, with lots of yellows, oranges, and browns. The beauty of it all should ensure a Best Animated Feature nomination at the Academy Awards. The film also might have an outside shot for a Best Score nomination (something it greatly deserves) for Alexandre Desplat.

Overall, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a rousing success. The richness of the color and the eccentricity of the animation help rope us into this world, while the endearing characters, clever dialogue, and fast-moving plot keep us there. My usual problems with Anderson’s films were completely missing here, and I am greatly thankful for it. Perhaps this was because he had to neuter things down a bit for a younger audience, but if that’s the case, I hope he continues to do so in the future. But for now, I just have to be thankful he ventured out and made this film. It’s not only the finest animated film of the year, but one of the best overall.

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