“Foxes traditionally like to court danger …”
So says one of the characters in director (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) Wes Anderson’s utterly charming Fantastic Mr. Fox, adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name.
Mr. Fox (a perfectly on-point George Clooney) breaks a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) to renounce a life of thievery. When the doldrums of domesticity catch up with him Mr. Fox is seduced by his old ways, and in no time is battling a triumvirate of angry farmers after having been caught stealing. The humans’ increasingly involved attempts to smoke him out of his foxhole affects all the forest creatures – the resulting story has the menagerie of animals applying their respective talents in a community effort to outfox the humans.
The stop-motion technique used here is a welcome alternative to the unrelenting stream of aggressively over-produced, CGI-laden animated features of late, resulting in a seamless verisimilitude that permits Dahl’s imaginary universe to retain critical aspects of the physical world – like gravity and perspective. This authentic approach adds a wonderful depth (literally and figuratively) of dignity and realism that enhances the tale: the corduroy on dapper Mr. Fox’s blazer appears tangibly soft, when son Ash’s eyes well they are filled with real tears and the individual hairs on Mrs. Fox’s face move when she smiles (foxes don’t need Botox). The organic appearance is a retro throwback reminiscent of the works of Albert BarillĂ© (The Adventures of Jeremy the Bear) or the popular British film and (subsequent) TV series The Wind in the Willows.
Anderson has made a sophisticated children’s film that is faithful to his oeuvre – the use of kinetic sequences, subtitles, and a passive perpendicular shooting style that quietly frames the characters and their stories are all evident here. The hilarious juxtaposition of the over-the-top interaction between humans and anthropomorphized forest creatures did, at times, seem like something that may have been produced by the Max Fischer Players from Rushmore (the constant low-flying helicopters brought to mind that film’s Vietnam-inspired mise en abyme, “Heaven and Hell”). Many of the cast are Anderson regulars and are delightful here, especially Jason Schwartzman (perfect as the grumpy son with an inferiority complex), Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray. It is utterly refreshing to have actors who perform, gifted with vocal talents that extend beyond the limited novelty offered by virtue of their celebrity recognition (I’m looking at you, Cameron Diaz – animated or otherwise).
Parents will find film the film clever rather than obnoxious, and tender without being precious. Kids will love Fantastic Mr. Fox for all the reasons their parents loved the book. Hopefully the film can inspire parents and kids to love both, together.