Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman,
Bill Murray, Michael Gambon. Rated PG.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is hardly the groundbreaking spectacle we’ve come to expect
as Hollywood animation studios race to push the genre to dizzying heights of
creations here are brilliantly colorful but crude – deliberately so, I suspect,
as if Anderson is rejecting the idea that storytelling need follow the lead of
technology. What he offers instead is a delightfully exhilarating comedy,
filled with fully realized characters and faithful, at least in spirit, to
Roald Dahl’s popular children’s book.
Anderson has long
professed his desire to bring Fox to the screen, and his determination
is evident in the strength of his narrative. Rather than indulging in
endless flights of whimsy, as he did to distracting effect in The Life Aquatic
with Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Anderson’s
script, written with Noah Baumbach, is lean and sparkling with wit,
easily his most rewarding effort since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums.
As in Dahl’s
novel, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is a sly provocateur who feels most
alive when stealing livestock. In Boggis, Bunce and Bean – “horrible crooks, so
different in looks,” but “nonetheless equally mean” – he finds formidable foes
whose well-stocked farms
are irresistible to an incorrigible thrill seeker. But Mr. Fox’s daring is not
Mr. Fox is, as he
never tires of reminding his exasperated wife (Meryl Streep), a wild animal.
It’s the excuse he uses when justifying his need for mischief, undiminished
from his misbegotten days as a professional poultry thief, and when explaining
to his angry neighbors why the three farmers are on the warpath. He’s not a
good listener – he favors the sound of his own voice, as his underappreciated
son (Jason Schwartzman, at
his deadpan best) and lawyer (Bill Murray) will attest – and he’s
But Mr. Fox is not
without charm. His obliviousness is often played for laughs, as are his
most pompous affectations. (He celebrates even his smallest victories with the
kind of self-congratulatory swagger that would make a humbler beast blush.)
Yet, like most of Anderson’s characters, he is prone to introspection, and his
decision to be a more
responsible husband and father carries with it more of an emotional
undercurrent than one might expect.
Family angst is a
theme common to Anderson’s movies, yet Fox eschews the muddled melodrama that
sank Life Aquatic for wryly self-mocking humor that never condescends to its
audience. It’s a gas from the get-go, and welcome proof that Anderson hasn’t
lost his flair for comedy that people actually laugh at.