Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor, 87 minutes
Inspired, original "Fox" near fantastic
Who would've thought that the guy who directed such offbeat fare as "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" would make a thoroughly enjoyable, inspired and slyly amusing children's film such as "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." But an unconventional director like Wes Anderson is seemingly a natural choice to direct Roald Dahl's unconventional children's book in colorful, stop-motion form. "Mr. Fox" is energetic, affectingly voiced and its themes suitable for everyone, though the dialogue-heavy plot may lose some of the younger set it's intended for.
The story concerns Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wild-ways of hen heckling, turkey taking and cider sipping, nocturnal, instinctive adventures. Since he started a family with Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and now has a son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), his wild days are behind him and he must do what fathers do best: be responsible. However, given his rebellious foxy ways, he's going to try "just one more raid" on the three nastiest, meanest farmers that are Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon). It is this quest for one last great adventure that opens the door for some major problems when the farmers begin their hunt to destroy Mr. Fox, his friends and their way of life below the ground.
Magical, inventive and fun, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is brought to life with fresh imagination from Anderson, who carefully adapts Dahl's (he also wrote "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach") ingenious children's novel but adds a goofy, pleasant humor not usually found in those novels. Anderson bookends the film with his own original scenes while remaining faithful to the source through the rest of the film.
Anderson also adds some of his usual touches - family dysfunction, lots of dialogue and those yellow placards which come upon the screen to introduce us to another chapter. All works well with the story, except Anderson's dialogue isn't kid-friendly and may be lost on many of the younger ones in the audience, who with no doubt will enjoy the stop-motion animation and the amusement of it all (my favorite: some sleep-inducing blueberries that Mr. Fox throws to the beagles).
"The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is voiced with natural ease by all the actors; the suave Clooney is especially an inspired choice for the title role, while Streep is a wistful, gentle Mrs. Fox. Anderson regulars Schwartzman, as nerdy son Ash, and Bill Murray, as the Badger, are among the highlights of the film (the Murray-Clooney exchanges are particularly memorable). Gambon (of the recent "Harry Potter" films), Owen Wilson (also an Anderson regular) and Willem Dafoe all have a few fun moments as some colorful characters in Mr. Fox's world.
However, the real star of "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is the seamless, bright stop-motion animation, which seems remarkably smooth and crisp compared to other films. It's an inspired choice to make Dahl's film this way but also a risky one, given that the Tim Burton-produced "James and the Giant Peach" remains one of the most fantastic, vivid stop-motion films ever seen.
"The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is near-fantastic in its fresh approach to appeal to all ages: the kids will enjoy the superb animation, the adults will enjoy the dialogue, not to mention the underlying messages of community and family. "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is a pleasant, enjoyable movie-going experience that the whole family can enjoy this holiday season.