Fantastic Mr. Fox

Movie Information

The Story: Bored with life as a respectable fox citizen, Mr. Fox reverts to a life of poultry thievery and outwitting local farmers. The Lowdown: Witty, sophisticated comedy, splendid voice acting, brilliant animation and personal filmmaking combine to create perhaps the most pure fun to be had at the movies all year.
Score:

Genre: Animated Comedy
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: (Voices) George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon
Rated: PG

That Wes Anderson could move from the realm of R-rated live-action comedy to that of PG-rated stop-motion animated comedy without missing a beat or making a single compromise or concession is a marvel to behold—and so is Fantastic Mr. Fox. What could have easily been—to adopt the language of the film itself—something of a “cluster cuss” winds up instead both prime Anderson and perhaps the most striking animated movie of the year. What Anderson has done is to take Roald Dahl’s children’s book and present it in terms that are purely Andersonian—witty, quirky, individual—and the result is just possibly the most pure fun you’ll have at a movie all year.

From the moment Anderson presents the viewer with a copy of the Dahl book that’s labeled, “Now a major motion picture from American Empirical,” you get the strange feeling that he’s been working toward something like this for some considerable time—especially if you pause to remember that The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) is presented as if it were a children’s book. But where that film might be said to represent a child’s interpretation of an adult story, Fantastic Mr. Fox is an adult interpretation of a children’s story—done in such a way that it’s perfectly suitable for both.

In many ways, it’s almost the definition of a Wes Anderson film—right down to literalizing the common complaint from his detractors that he moves his characters around like figures in a dollhouse. He flirted with this in Tenenbaums, with its toy stages (probably the origin of the criticism), and he touched on it again in the little displays in Jason Schwartzman’s room in the Hotel Chevalier segment of The Darjeeling Limited (2007). Well, now he’s actually made a film that consists of him moving dolls around in very elaborate dollhouses—ones that, in fact, give Anderson even greater freedom to indulge his penchant for breakaway or shaved sets, which allow for complex camera movements and stagings that are theatrical without being stagey.

It helps immensely that Dahl’s story is a good fit for Anderson’s particular worldview. Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is something of a rascal, who just can’t keep his promise to Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) to be a solid, sober citizen, because it’s just his nature to be a sly fox who likes his poultry fresh—and stolen. Mr. Fox also can’t resist bedeviling the trio of humans—Boggis, Bunce and especially Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon)—who run things in the part of the world where the action takes place. Since they’re a very disagreeable lot, it’s hard to fault Mr. Fox for this—even if Mr. Fox won’t be the only one to suffer for his thieving antics.

Being that the Fox family is in an Anderson film, it naturally follows that they are at least somewhat dysfunctional. As is common, there’s a son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwarzman), who has issues with the fact that his father doesn’t appreciate—or even much notice—him, and this situation is exacerbated by the arrival of a relative, Kristofferson (voiced by Anderson’s brother, Eric), who is everything Mr. Fox could want in a son. Mrs. Fox is very much in the mold of mothers and wives that Anjelica Huston played in Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and Darjeeling. In fact, Meryl Streep plays Mrs. Fox in a similar manner, but with a frailty that’s never more than hinted at in Huston’s characters.

For all that can—and should—be said about the film’s stunning use of old-fashioned stop-motion animation, I honestly feel that the highest compliment I can pay the movie in this regard is that I don’t immediately think of it as an animated film. I merely think of it as a film. Even its flights of fantasy and its anthropomorphic characters (who are charmingly prone to reverting to wild animals at the slightest provocation) are absolutely real in my mind. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment.

Truly, there’s not a false note or a false characterization in Fantastic Mr. Fox. The voice casting could not be improved upon and never once does it feel like the actors were cast just for their name value, but because they really are the absolute best choices. It all comes together in a glorious outburst of great humor and tremendous vitality, making it not only one of the best films of the year, but the best early Christmas present you could hope for. Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

18 thoughts on “Fantastic Mr. Fox

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    When I first saw the trailers for this I was definitely hooked into wanting to see it, but I felt like the movie looked rather mainstream-ish for an Anderson film. I was very pleased to find that this is every bit an Anderson film – far more so than the trailers had made it look to me. The funny thing is that when I was in the theater, I kind of got this peculiar feeling, like I was in the presence a much more ‘mainstream’ audience than with any previous Anderson movie. Usually I feel like I’m in the company of a group of fans that have seem most of his movies, and there’s this feeling that we all are on the same page, and appreciate and understand this style that we’ve come to expect. In this case I don’t see how anyone couldn’t enjoy a movie that’s this much fun, but I couldn’t help but get the impression that the people sitting next to me were Anderson virgins, that were thinking “this is rather odd and quirky”. Anyway, I loved this movie, and I am so pleased to find that it wasn’t in any way over-hyped and anticlimactic for me.

  2. I see lots of kid movies, and this may be the best new one I’ve seen (new, as in since I’ve had kids).

    I saw it over the holiday in Atlanta with a group of adults and kids–all of us loved it.

    One word of warning to some parents–there’s lots of shooting at furry forest critters in the film, which upset one of my kids but not the other.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Anyway, I loved this movie, and I am so pleased to find that it wasn’t in any way over-hyped and anticlimactic for me

    Don’t you love it when that happens?

  4. Dread P. Roberts

    Don’t you love it when that happens?

    Yes, absolutely! Oftentimes, with a movie that I’m excited about, I find myself trying really hard to not think about it too much, that way it won’t be that big of a disappointment (or, at least, that’s what I tell myself) if it’s not everything that I’d hoped it would be. It’s such a refreshing relief when I find myself thoroughly enjoying the movie just as much, if not more, then I thought I would.

  5. Withrow

    I’m pretty ambivalent about this movie. I love Roald Dahl and have done so since I was a child. Wes Anderson, on the other hand, deals in a product–the self-absorbed ennui of the privileged class–that I don’t always have much stomach for. I enjoyed the Royal Tenenbaums, was left cold by The Life Aquatic, and kept hoping that he was going to pull a From-Dusk-Till-Dawn in Darjeeling Limited by turning it halfway through into a man-eating-tiger horror movie. When I read that he’s taken Dahl’s charming trickster story and added what sounds like suburban angst and ennui to it, I’m not thrilled.

    I’ll probably see it anyway; at least I’ll have the advantage going in of very low expectations. But if any of the characters are halfways as irritating as the brothers in Darjeeling, I’ll start hoping for that tiger again.

  6. Sean Williams

    Wes Anderson, on the other hand, deals in a product — the self-absorbed ennui of the privileged class — that I don’t always have much stomach for.

    I don’t have much tolerance for postmodern angst either, but I’ve never put Anderson’s films in that category. Many of his characters are comically immature, which, to me, indicates that he regards their insecurity and self-pity as funny without entirely invalidating their complaints.

    Compare and contrast with Don DeLillo, whose book White Noise has been compared to The Royal Tenenbaums: DeLillo also writes comically immature, self-absorbed, overpriveleged characters, but he glorifies their self-pity as spiritual maturity and blames their neuroses on society.

    I realize that this is a very fine and very subjective distinction, but to me, it’s an all-important distinction.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I enjoyed the Royal Tenenbaums, was left cold by The Life Aquatic, and kept hoping that he was going to pull a From-Dusk-Till-Dawn in Darjeeling Limited by turning it halfway through into a man-eating-tiger horror movie.

    I would actually suggest you save yourself the irritation I feel certain you’ll feel and not see the movie. It’s seems unlikely you’ll have a good time and that Anderson is just generally not for you.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Many of his characters are comically immature, which, to me, indicates that he regards their insecurity and self-pity as funny without entirely invalidating their complaints

    I think that’s fair. It’s rather like Tim Burton’s take on suburbia — mystified and amused by it, but not entirely unsympathetic. When I reviewed The Darjeeling Limited — which I called as close to a perfect film as you’re likely to get — I remarked, “Anderson’s movies are filled with sad people who know full well that something is wrong with them and with their lives, but they haven’t a clue what to do about it — and they’re not even sure exactly what’s wrong.” That’s still how I feel about it and about Anderson’s work in general. For me, the films work.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I wanted to see it again the moment I left the theater

    So did I — and I haven’t made it back yet. Somehow having Transylmania to look forward to offers no solace.

  10. Me

    Loved it! The animation really reminded me of those old Penny bits from Pee Wees Playhouse.

  11. Sean Williams

    It’s rather like Tim Burton’s take on suburbia — mystified and amused by it, but not entirely unsympathetic.

    That’s an excellent analogy — one I had already made in my own mind, since we discussed Edward Scissorhands recently. I also thought of Woody Allen: many of his protagonists are condescending misanthropes, but they’re nevertheless lovable because Allan presents them in such a ridiculous light.

    I should amend my earlier post: I don’t dislike postmodern angst in general. I don’t even dislike overprivileged, self-absordbed characters if their creators have some perspective on their silliness. What I dislike is authors and directors who think that postmodern angst is all-important and blame society for their characters’ nonspecific spiritual malaise.

    Ironically, I think that Don DeLillo and David Fincher and Henry Albee and Sam Mendes feel superior to their characters (maybe even to their audiences), although they take them so seriously. Wes Anderson and Tim Burton and Woody Allen constantly embarrass their characters, but they seem to care about them.

  12. Dread P. Roberts

    Art imitates life, and vise versa. So I think it’s safe to say that the personalities of the people a director surrounds themself with will oftentimes end up in a movie. The trick for the director is being able to understand and harness their world-view, all the while putting themselves into their work. I like to believe that a good director can put himself, and his own personal experiences/outlook, into a movie more naturally and effortlessly than a not-so-good director. Even if I really don’t like a certain directors outlook, I can respect the dedication to what is important to him; especially when the execution feels so effortless. It shoes a firm grounding in what is artist believes. If he or she is trying to get across a message, then it feels more genuine to me.

    Wes Anderson and Tim Burton and Woody Allen constantly embarrass their characters, but they seem to care about them.

    I think that they seem to care about their characters so much because they are oftentimes putting a bit of themself (and their friends/family) into their characters.

  13. Lady L

    This movie was wonderful in so many ways. Entertaining, funny, thought-provoking, the animation was facinating to watch, and I loved the fact that even though the characters are anthropomorpic you aren’t allowed to forget that, in the end, they are wild animals after all. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would recommend this to anyone looking for a little bit of fun at the movies.

  14. Mummer

    I just moved from Asheville to chilly New Hampshire, and being away from family, decided to head out Thanksgiving evening to see this film. It was myself and maybe half a dozen other people in the theater. I left the theater feeling pretty warm and fuzzy. I haven’t enjoyed a movie this much in I don’t know how long, I think I had a grin on my face the whole way through. It was fantastic.

  15. Finally caught up with this. I probably shouldn’t make rash statements so soon after walking out of the theatre, but this may be the best animated film I’ve ever seen. I LOVED this movie. Completely true to the spirit of both Dahl and Anderson, and gloriously fun from start to finish.
    And I’m glad that Anderson didn’t feel the need to move away form his penchant for including pop music in his movies – from Street Fighting Man to Night and Day being played by one of the animals on the piano.

  16. Ken Hanke

    That is, I believe, Art Tatum’s recording of “Night and Day.”

  17. That is, I believe, Art Tatum’s recording of “Night and Day.”
    Not a recording I’m particularly familiar with, which would explain why I didn’t recognise it. But I shall track it down now.

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