Movie Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

ON

George Clooney voices Mr. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

I have no idea how Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox will be received by general audiences, or if they will even show up to see it. I can guess, and say many audiences won’t find the humor in it. I can also guess those same people will be annoyed as I sit next to them laughing and loving every minute of it. As a so-so fan of Wes Anderson’s work I can tell you I think Bottle Rocket is outstanding and I don’t share the same affection for Rushmore as many others do. In this respect, Fantastic Mr. Fox is more along the lines of Bottle Rocket than it is any of Anderson’s other films and the stop motion animation ramps up the comedy even that much more.

Anderson’s film is an adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book of which I have not yet read, but was immediately inclined to (but didn’t), hoping to recapture even a sliver of what this film had to offer. Fantastic Mr. Fox is an ingenious comedy filled with charm, wit and a belief that you don’t need fart jokes or pop culture references to make a great animated film. Admittedly, this isn’t an animated film for children. These characters aren’t played up to be cute or as caricatures, they don’t fall down go boom or yell wildly to attract your attention. The color is dedicated to a seasonal orange pallette and the humor is as deadpan as any Anderson fan would expect. In short, it’s glorious.

Featuring an all-star voice cast indicative of Anderson’s style, the film follows Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he’s encouraged to abandon his natural hunter instincts in an effort to be around and support his family after he and Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) are captured one night. However, his vow to avoid the “criminal” lifestyle is abandoned as he purchases a new dwelling at the foot of an old tree overlooking the three meanest farmers the world has known: Bunce, Boggis and Bean. It’s at this moment he goes back to his old ways, which results in an all-out war between Fox, family, friends and the farmers.

Outside of the excellent script penned by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, the marriage of voice cast and animation is sheer perfection. The animation isn’t entirely fluid and isn’t trying to be. Reality and perfection in movement are not a concern, this is a film that seems to have been made with the same moral as the story it’s telling in mind. Be yourself and don’t try to be anything other than what/who you are. This is a stop motion animated film directed by Wes Anderson and it’s not trying to be, or do, anything more than have fun within its own parameters.

As the voice of Mr. Fox, George Clooney is quite simply George Clooney. I can’t imagine Anderson expected any less, and it’s a piece of casting that plays well into Clooney’s suave, yet playful attitude that instantly suits the sly fox. However, the rest of the voice cast creates characters as memorable as I have seen in recent animation.

Meryl Streep voices the Fox family matriarch and is superb in doing so. Willem Dafoe as the malevolent Rat is expertly unrecognizable. Bill Murray as Mr. Fox’s lawyer, Badger, is a droll necessity and Eric Chase Anderson as Fox’s nephew Kristofferson is as sweet and unassuming as they come. However, none of them compare to the expert timing and reading of Jason Schwartzman as Fox’s son Ash. Schwartzman’s voice coupled with the unconventional animation style is absolutely perfect.

I really can’t say much more about this one other than go see it. I am definitely going to see it one more time in theaters and can’t wait until it’s released on Blu-ray (hopefully Criterion Blu-ray like so many other Wes Anderson films). While I do believe fans of Anderson are more likely to accept this film for no reason other than they know what to expect, I can only hope there will be some crossover to help this film become the hit it deserves to be.

GRADE: A