Based, of course, on the Roald Dahl book of the same title, it tells the story of tweed-suited bird thief Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), who gives up a life of petty crime and becomes a respectable family man. He has a lovely wife (Meryl Streep) and an oddball, caped son (Jason Schwartzman), and together they have just moved into prime real estate a little too close to a mark that Fox just can't resist hitting in one last job. This time, though, he's playing with the worst of the worst, and his swipes at industrial farmers Boggus, Bunce, and Bean put his family and the local fauna at serious risk. As the caper unwinds and the stakes grow higher, the story keeps in step and the film's wit seems to only get stronger. Anderson's stop-motion aesthetic is a triumph. Just as with his live action work, the film feels timeless. It has the heart of something from a bygone era, and some would argue the look as well, but the dialogue and humor is sharp and edgy, quick and clever, too brazen and forward to have been swiped from a decade long since passed. You would never know it from the jerky motions and dull one-liners of the trailer, but the film flies by as you sit in the din of the theater. It's remarkably engaging, visually beautiful to behold, and it becomes very easy to put aside the fact that this is an animated film. The conversations are so fluid, the progression so natural i was never once struck with any sort of reminder that this was anything but some unfamiliar reality.
For Anderson fans (and i am one, to be sure), this movie is a marvel, and an instant classic that appeals to one's quirky inner child. Yet, i'd argue that even those who left films like The Royal Tenenbaums or Life Aquatic with a grimace and a low-tolerance for dysfunctional eccentrics will enjoy Fantastic Mr. Fox. The film is high energy and big on larger than life characters, it's a little like Chicken Run played out with a fully formed independent identity and a full set of adult teeth (though, trust me, kids will love it just as much). There's a magic that hits you within the first few minutes, a sense that this is the real deal, that the more whimsical movies of your childhood have been repackaged so you can enjoy them guiltlessly as an adult. There's none of the shtick, pop cultural references, or emotional baggage other family films use to attract a wider audience, it doesn't need them, it's built of the stuff of early Hollywood comedies.
True, the film has deviated from the original text. The soul, however, remains the same. It may be many a year since i've read Dahl's version, but this looked much the way i'd always pictured it, bathed in warm autumnal shades and dressed up in a shirt and tie. Each shot is framed with love and care to become a pitch-perfect encapsulated still, a diorama that never deviates from the aim of the film. There are miniature wonders to be found everywhere, the way Fox's fur shifts in the breeze, elaborate tunnels under the Earth, symmetrical landscapes and stock rooms of cider. The voices, too, never detract from the story. Each actor blends flawlessly into their character without overpowering its essence. Having seen the film now, i can't imagine Fox being voiced by anyone other than Clooney. If i knew nothing of him as an actor, i'd say his voice alone captured the sort of sly mischief and loose ego of the character. Schwartzman, too, does great things with very little. By the time the end credits rolled, i was in love with the film and ready to watch it all over again. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a remarkable adventure, an out and out instant (really) classic, and truly a joyous work of cinema that accomplishes everything an ageless comedy should.
5 out of 5
See all of my reviews at Love & Squalor.