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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) ****

November 19, 2009

 

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) poster

written by: Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach (from a story by Roald Dahl)
produced by: Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Alison Abbate & Steven M. Rales
directed by: Wes Anderson
 
Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor.
87 min.
  
U.S. release date: November 25, 2009
DVD & Blu-ray release date: March 23, 2010
 
 
 
 
 
 
Writer/director Wes Anderson has had me since “Rushmore” back in 1998 (it’s been that long?), a movie I saw at least three times in the theater. Since then, I’ve enjoyed every one of his films but none as much as “Rushmore” until this wonderful film came out. It has the same charm, humor and hipster soundtrack as all his other films but the classic stop-motion animation employed here brings to life the anthropomorphic characters that inhabit what’s bound to be another Anderson classic. His typical conventions of eccentric outsiders, middle-age restlessness and dysfunctional families are present here.  Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s story about a thieving fox who’d rather outfox the local farmers of their goods then settle down with his family, is a wry delight.
 
The film opens with  Mr. Fox (George Clooney) standing under a tree on a hill waiting for his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep), as they decide which route to take on their way to steal some chickens from the local farmer. Right away, I had a smile on my face. It could have been due to the inclusion of title cards, maybe it was the amazing animation or quite possibly the insertion of The Beach Boys “Heroes and Villains”. Regardless, I was hooked on the look, feel and vibe of this film from the start which is exactly how I felt when I first saw “Rushmore”. I was surprised to find myself experiencing such a feeling. Not as surprised as Mr. Fox was when his wife told him she was pregnant and asked him to find another line of work.
 
 
 
Years later, the Fox family are living in a hole in the ground. In order to convince his wife of his stability and family safety, he takes a gig as a newspaper columnist. Mr. Fox wrestles with an identity crisis while his young son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman) walks around wearing the costume of his favorite superhero, longing for his father’s acceptance. Mr. Fox can’t seem to scratch that restless itch he accredits to him being a “wild animal” and resorts to his master thief skills once again. Adding to the family dynamic is Ash’s cousin of the same age, Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson, Wes’ brother), who is staying with them while his father is ill. His stay becomes a source of both contention and competition for Ash, since Kristofferson is excellent at everything, including thievery.
 
With his lookout and accomplice, opossum Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox sets out to pillage the local livestock on the farms of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (Michael Gambon), because it’s just something wild animals do. Enraged, Bean tries to out-fox Mr. Fox by ripping apart the countryside with his machinery as he searches for his wily intruder, putting just about every animal at risk. The fight that follows gives Mr. Fox a shot at redemption while giving Ash the chance to show his worth and bond with his cousin. 
 
 

 
 
Feeling pressured and responsible for the danger he has brought upon everybody, Mr. Fox leads his family and friends underground as they dig and burrow their way to safety. Fox’s attorney, Badger (Bill Murray) and his family all look to him for his wit and incorrigible resilience for their survival. Yet we start to see Mr. Fox deal with his own guilt which adds a touching layer of poignancy amid the laughs in this whimsical tale that showcases the importance of family and friendships.
 
With these themes, it’s obvious this is not just some animated kiddie flick. It’s a quirky film for adults that is suitable for children. Although these animals do quite a bit of smoking, use the word “cuss” instead of swearing and are shot at continuously, it is family-friendly. In fact, it’s ideal for Thanksgiving, a holiday which has few films. For those adults who are generally averse to animated features, dismissing them as “cartoons” for kids, this is the one film that will breakdown such an absurd perspective.
 
 
 
 
One of the reasons this is a joyfully fun film is that Anderson is clearly having fun here. He’s created a whimsical and light atmosphere from Dahl’s creation that both respects and honors the source material. Right away, it becomes clear that Anderson fits perfectly with this stop-motion animated format. Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) take their time to insert snappy dialogue with scrappy fisticuffs throughout. Their nods to other films will stretch the viewers already present grin. In an effort to rescue Ash and Kristofferson, we see Mr. Fox and friends encounter a Rat (Willem Dafoe) straight out of “West Side Story”. There’s also a fun reference to Disney’s “Robin Hood” another rapscallion fox on film. At no time does any of this pull the viewer out, instead it adds to the film’s buoyant charm.
 
As in most Anderson films, the cast is impeccably spot-on. Both Clooney and Streep are having a stellar year on the screen and their roles here are a reminder of how versatile they are. Streep gives Felicity the soothing voice of reason that can tame Clooney’s feral Fox. It’s hard not to think of Danny Ocean when we hear Clooney’s gravely voice lead those around him with a wink in his eye. It’s the stunning animation team however that really makes the cast impeccable. Through various nuanced expressions and inflections, we are given a seamless fit between the actor chosen and their furry character. They have literally created a “Fantastic” world for Anderson to play in and it suit him wonderfully. If only other studios would understand that they need not rely on 3D glasses to dazzle audiences.
 
This is as much an Anderson film as any of his previous films. I have absolutely no problem continuously seeing the usual Anderson players, the typical language, tone and creativity that he always brings. His eccentric and endearing characters are always more welcome than what we can  usually be found on the screen. Even when they’re animated, they feel like people you know and can relate to. With it’s wry tone and breathtaking detail, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” could easily be placed up there with any Pixar film….but why bother? It has it’s own special place under a vibrant autumn tree overlooking abundant loot and it can’t get on DVD fast enough. 

 

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) character poster-The Brains

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) character poster-The Brains behind The Brains

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) character poster-The Lookout

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) character poster-The-Muscle

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) character poster-The-Whistle-Blower

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) character poster--The Rotter

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) character poster-The Scoundrel

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) poster 9

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