Based of the children’s book by Roald Dahl and directed by Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox is unlike any animated film I have ever seen. Using stop-motion animation, the realistic details, especially on the characters, are extremely vivid. You get an amazing sense of depth and texture here, probably because of the sophisticated high resolution camera used for filming. The only other film that has made me feel like I could reach out and touch everything on screen was seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D.
Unlike many movies aimed at children, Fantastic Mr. Fox is very subdued and surprisingly mature. The laughs aren’t really jokes, but a quiet quirky moment we are witness to. And the character voices, which boasts some big name actors, do not sound like they were given an extra shot of espresso before their recording. It’s a different kind of energy, more sophisticated than you’re likely to find in an animated film. I doubt kids will find a catch-phrase to squeal after watching this film.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a wild animal who does what comes naturally, stealing from the local farmers, but it’s dangerous work. When he learns that Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) is expecting a cub, she makes him promise to find safer work. After about two years of being a responsible family fox, (we are told that that equals about twelve fox years), Mr. Fox gets restless and moves his family to a big tree. There, he can see three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Robin Hurlstone, Hugo Guinness and Michael Gambon), who are so different in looks, but nonetheless equally mean. Mr. Fox can’t resist pulling one last heist on these three. With the help of Badger (Bill Murry), raiding goes well for a while. However, when things turn ugly, he endangers all his animal friends and will need their help.
The Fox family is quite interesting. Mrs. Fox seems like a very down to earth, no nonsense mama. A struggle to control her wild, thrill seeking husband is inevitable. Their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), is wonderfully sullen in his early adolescence. From the way he dresses, his tendency to spit on the floor, we love the way he is an odd kid with a quietly bad attitude. When cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes to visit, it only makes Ash feel like a loser, causing a perfect tension. Poor Ash, not only is Kristofferson taller, younger, better at school and sports, but he is also the nicest kid you could ever meet. And when Mr. Fox recruits Kristofferson for a raid, instead of Ash, the rivalry starts to sting.
The film has a wonderfully quirky feel most of the time. The music choices help aid that, from The Ballad of Davy Crockett, to a plucky bluegrass feel and a short campfire song explaining the situation the farmers are facing. The Oscar nomination for Best Original Score was well deserved, just as much as its nomination for Best Animated Feature. To push the quirkiness further, simulated swearing is slipped into the dialogue now and then. The natural sense of urgency is still there, but not dumbed down with kiddie words, “You scared the cuss out of us!” It takes just a moment to get used to this.
While animated films are often considered to be for kids, I would not recommend Fantastic Mr. Fox for the smallest of children. I imagine they could get bored trying to keep up with the dry, witty dialogue and could be slightly frightened by how realistic Mr. Fox can be in a closeup. A good gage would be, if the child is old enough to read Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox on their own, then try the film out for size. For adults, especially those who grew up on Dahl’s books, this is a wonderful film that you don’t need kids around to enjoy.
“That was pure wild animal craziness.”