Fantastic Mr. Fox
What It Is
Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is definitely foxish. Perpetually restless and inherently sly, he likes to break into chicken houses and dig holes, scurry over hill and dale and cause trouble. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson’s marvelous expansion of Roald Dahl’s perfectly lovely 1970 book, this behavior is cast as immature, as Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) hopes to rein in her husband’s scampishness, a point she makes clear as the film starts, when, in the middle of a chicken house caper, she informs him that she’s pregnant. He needs to be responsible, support his new family (by writing a local newspaper column), and for goodness’ sake, stop thieving.
Mr. Fox agrees, because he loves Mrs. Fox. But there’s something about him—his foxishness—that cannot be repressed. First (and 12 “fox years” after the first scenes), he moves Mrs. Fox and preteen son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) out of their dreary hole and into a tree. This even though it’s in a neighborhood, he’s cautioned by his lawyer friend badger (Bill Murray), that may be risky. Then, he discovers that his new neighbors are three arrogant men with profitable businesses, producing whole barns and basements full of fowl and hard cider. Unable to resist the temptation, Mr. Fox and his mostly willing possum buddy Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) begin to sneak out at night in order to steal from these smug humans, to recover his sense of himself as fantastic. He can’t help himself.
Things go wrong when the humans decide to fight back, ferociously. They gather together gunmen, bulldozers, and backhoes in order to track down the thieves. The fact that Mr. Fox has also included Ash and visiting silver fox nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) only makes the betrayal worse when Mrs. Fox inevitably finds out. It also complicates Mr. Fox’s efforts to redeem himself, as Ash resents Kristofferson (who is phenomenally smart and smooth and athletic) and Kristofferson is eventually caught by the humans. Now Mr. Fox has to rally all the locals (rabbits, moles, weasels, and otters) in order to thwart the not-so-civilized humans and assert their own wild ascendancy.
Why It’s Fun
Appealing to viewers of all ages, Fantastic Mr. Fox offers comedy, adventure and wit, terrific stop-motion animation and delightful voice performances (Clooney and Schwartzman are especially excellent), and existential questions, at once strange and quite deep (“Can a fox ever be happy without a chicken in its teeth?”). The movie also offers clever takes on family dynamics. While too many kids’ films depict families in ways that are out of date, melodramatic or too sweet by half, this one presents detailed and entertaining relationships, as the boys share their thoughts on girls (they both like the same classmate, Agnes [Juman Malouf]) and what it means to be young foxes, the adults earnestly discuss how to compromise and maintain individuality, and parents and children actually engage in plausible conversations about growing up and doing right things. All this in the midst of amusing antics—stealth infiltrations, narrow escapes, and feel-good revenge schemes.
Who’s Going To Love It
The delightful animation and the rambunctious action will appeal to children, certainly. You might say, as Mrs. Fox does, that Mr. Fox’s antics are born of an innate immaturity, and in another movie, he might be supposed to grow up. But in this one, his foxishness is crucial to his happiness and his family’s, a lesson they all learn just in time. Young viewers will take great pleasure in the explosions and the wily plotting, as well as the rodents’ utterly charming characterizations: Mr. Fox and friends wear bandit masks and corduroy jackets, drive little cars, and swan-dive into swimming pools, and reveal their wildness when ravaging their French toast and digging tunnels in a matter of minutes. And parents will like the credible relationships between couples who know each other well, caring adults and eager-to-please children, and competitive teenaged cousins.
What To Be Aware Of
Violence is cartoonish and unscary, with funny stop-motion falls and splats, kicks and punches, even gunfire (Mr. Fox loses his tail to one human’s aggression). The figures, flames, and hijinks are Gumby-like, in a next generation and funny as such. Even when Mr. Fox and Kylie are menaced by the large black Rat (Willem Dafoe) who’s been hired as a security guard by one of the farmers or worry on seeing a large black wolf on the road, the scenes are subtle and comic rather than odious. It’s true, the girls tend to be helpmeets more than individuals (though they are pleasant and bright in those roles), and in another movie, perhaps Ms. Fox, this dynamic might be adjusted. The movie’s most cunning trick is the one that has earned it a PG rating: again and again, instead of using cuss-words, everyone says the actual word, “cuss,” combined with others (“total cluster-cuss,” “holy cuss!”) or stand-alone. Unbelievably, the joke only gets better with repetition.
9 out of 10
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
US Premiere: November 13, 2009
UK Premiere: October 23, 2009