George Clooney as Mr. Fox
Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox
Jason Schwartzman as Ash
Bill Murray as Badger
Wally Wolodarsky as Kylie
Eric Anderson as Kristofferson
Michael Gambon as Franklin Bean
Willem Dafoe as Rat
Owen Wilson as Coach Skip
For the first twenty minutes or so “Fantastic Mr. Fox” struggles slightly. The traditional looking, and slightly staccato animation jars somewhat when compared to other stop-motion animated films like “Coraline” or “The Corpse Bride.” At the same time, Anderson’s story, at least early on in the film, bares more resemblance to his previous work than it does Roald Dahl’s book.
Mr. Fox is middle aged, unhappy with his job and desperate to re-capture his youth. His son dresses as a super hero, struggles to live up to his father’s sporting achievements and resents his cousin, who is athletically and socially superior to him, while the supporting cast are a collection of awkward misfits, working as estate agents, lawyers and pediatricians.
It makes sense that Anderson added these sub plots to the story, but it does lead one to ask why the production company bothered to purchase the rights to “Fantastic Mr. Fox” instead of simply making an original feature with new characters.
That said, when the film does eventually find it’s flow it is great fun. There are wonderful slapstick flourishes in the animation that were absolutely hilarious, and suit Anderson’s style down to the ground. This is enhanced by how perfectly the animated characters marry with the actors’ vocal performances. This is particularly true for Michael Gambon’s portrayal of the psychotic Bean, and Willem Dafoe’s Rat, both of whom ooze menace every second they are on screen.
A recurring theme throughout the movie is the rhyme ‘Boggis, Bunce and Bean.’ Initially used to describe the three antagonists, towards the end of the film it becomes the soundtrack to their demise. The clever use of songs to advance the plot also provides us with one of the most enjoyable scenes in the entire feature, where a Lennon-esque singer narrates the actions of Fox and his associates, while at the same time the animation temporarily becomes stylized and increasingly surreal.
The film is far from perfect, and in places it can’t quite live up to its promise. While Anderson has clearly made this for the same audience as “Rushmore” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” he has had to make concessions to the children who will be in the audience with them, and while many of these work, particularly some of the more frenetic animated sequences, one in particular falls flat.
Throughout the film, Anderson has replaced any obscenities that would appear in the character’s dialogue with the word ‘cuss.’ While this is a clever way to avoid a PG-13 rating, it is also an object lesson in why more attention should be paid by censors to context rather than the word used. Not only did it temporarily eject the viewer from the world the film had created, but it also seemed entirely inappropriate for a film where much of the audience would be young children.
That flaw aside, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a hugely enjoyable film that combines the highly stylized worlds of Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl perfectly. While it may frustrate those who expect a straight adaptation of the book, the fast pace and quick wit of the film should satisfy most viewers, even if they aren’t fans of Anderson’s previous work.