Anderson Makes Fantastic Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Running time 87 minutes
Written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray

Wes Anderson’s take on Fantastic Mr. Fox, the classic 1970 book by Roald Dahl, is full of the whimsy and cleverness one expects from the man behind Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but it manages to escape the treacly feelings of overt twee-ness that have plagued later works like The Darjeeling Limited. Instead, this film manages to capture all the joy of childish delights with grown-up irony and humor, making it pure fun. Visually, its a true marvel. Perhaps best of all, it feels like something entirely new.

George Clooney is the voice of Mr. Fox, an elegant chicken-stealer who favors not-quite-long-enough-sleeved suits (just like his creator). Fox is a little bit Danny Ocean, mixed with Out of Sight schemer Jack Foley, dotted with all the finger-snapped suavity of the actor himself. When his wife (Meryl Streep) tells him they are expecting a cub, he swears to go straight, and becomes a newspaper columnist instead. Yet the highs and profit from such work can’t compare to the thrill and reward of his former dangerous life, and Foxy can’t resist the lure of one last heist involving the three meanest farmers around. He enlists a new pal, a possum named Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), and his nephew, the naturally athletic Ash (Eric Anderson, Mr. Anderson’s brother and creative collaborator), while trying not to hurt the feelings of his “different” son (a pitch-perfect Jason Schwartzman).

The movie, co-written by Mr. Anderson and Noah Baumbach, takes some necessary departures and adds in a few subplots, but overall it enhances the story. The stop-motion animation that Mr. Anderson employs, so different from the depersonalized, ultra-smooth perfect Pixar look, only adds to the richness of the film. The animals—which include rabbits, badgers (hooray for Bill Murray), moles (The Observer’s James Hamilton!), hounds and a hilarious turn by Willem Dafoe as a vaguely Frenchy delusional rat—all have fur that bristles and whiskers that twitch. In fact, some of the movie’s best moments are when these animals break from their civilized affairs and remember that they are indeed just wild animals. As with all of Mr. Anderson’s movies, Fantastic Mr. Fox is sweetly wry, with comedic surprises and arch dialogue—I don’t know how much the kids will get out of the witticisms, but their parents will certainly be laughing.