MOVIE REVIEW- Better than <i>Up</i>?: Clooney, Streep make <i>Fox</i> fantastic


The characters may be talking animal puppets, but director Wes Anderson has never made a movie more recognizably his own than Fantastic Mr. Fox. Likewise, though his voice may be coming out of a fox– an extremely dapper fox– George Clooney has never been more himself. Meryl Streep as his wife (they apparently live in a country where foxes are allowed to marry)? Well, you know Streep. She totally becomes Mrs. Fox, and that's okay, too.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is based on a book by Roald Dahl, but his macabre touch is nowhere in evidence, having been replaced by that of Anderson and his writing partner Noah Baumbach.

I can't imagine anyone of any age not being able to enjoy this hilarious mash-up on some level. There's a bit of Chicken Run in the farmers vs. animals plot, everything from Burl Ives and the Beach Boys to Georges Delerue on the soundtrack, and even a quote from Rebel without a Cause for cusses and giggles.

Oh yeah, the word "cuss" is used instead of a bleep in place of strong language. By the time the movie's over, you, too, will be saying, "What the cuss!"

Mr. and Mrs. Fox are in trouble for squab-stealing when Mrs. Fox announces she's pregnant with their first cub, who will be named Ash (Jason Schwartzman). She makes Mr. Fox promise he'll get into a less dangerous line of work.

Two years later ("12 fox-years") Mr. Fox has become a newspaper columnist (talk about endangered species!) and is tired of living in a hole. Even though they're poor, he goes out and buys a tree for the family to live in. Around this time, Cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, the filmmaker's brother) comes for an extended visit and upsets Ash with his natural superiority.

Old habits die hard. Mr. Fox gets the urge again and plans "one last big job." He can't help sounding like Danny Ocean as he goes over the details with his assistant, Kylie the opossum (Wally Wolodarsky). It turns out to be a triple-header, hitting all three hated farmers, "Boggis and Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one lean," as the kids sing. (Michael Gambon voices Bean. The others don't have much to say.)

Ocean's– er, Fox's– Two (Three after Kristofferson joins them) are initially successful but get greedy and wind up endangering all the local animals as the farmers declare all-out war. This is when most animated films run into trouble by allowing the action to take over, but Fantastic Mr. Fox keeps its wit about it, remaining creative and funny while not neglecting the family issues that need to be resolved.

Anderson voices Stan Weasel, the realtor, himself, and employs other actors he's worked with before: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, in addition to Schwartzman and Wolodarsky. Then there's Jarvis Cocker, whose banjo-pickin' folk song cues a great punch line.

Just as Anderson's live-action films never quite seem real, Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn't quite seem unreal. The stop motion animation can be amazingly smooth and amusingly jerky, seemingly at the same time. If computer animation has got you thinking you'll never see hair again in an animated film, this movie has enough fur to be picketed by PETA, if they can prove what creatures it came from.

You'll remember the rabid beagle, the detachable tail and the game of Whack-Bat, which is like an earthbound Quidditch played with flaming pine cones. You'll remember the eyeballs, the eating, the digging and the diving, the whistling and clicking; but you may not remember the last time you had this much fun at a movie.

I'm a big fan of The Royal Tennenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, but Fantastic Mr. Fox is easily Anderson's best picture yet. I didn't think Up could have any competition for the year's best animated feature, but this one's got me thinking again.


1 comment

I can't believe this film was made for under 30M. By Hollywood standards, that's quite low budget. Considering how painstaking stop-motion can be and that Wes employed A-listers. Some may argue that the puppets' movement seem jerky and not fluid compared to Coraline, the other stop-mo released this year. But Coraline used CG to enhance, thus the glossy feel of the animation. FMF is out and out, old-school stop-mo reminiscent of the California raisins commercials. The effect is like a storybook or a diorama theater. Imagine the number of frames Wes used to create this.
The animals facial expressions impressed me the most (particularly the sidekick of Mr. Fox). Quite hard to pull off if fur is getting in the way, unlike clay.