Fantastic Mr. Fox feels like the film that director Wes Anderson has been trying to make ever since his first feature Bottle Rocket. Anderson’s films have always had the tone of a classic book for young adults. But what was once a stylish affectation eventually mutated into artistic lethargy. 2007’s The Darjeerling Limited showed that Anderson was now using his style as a crutch instead of a means to effectively tell a story. But with Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the classic 1970 Roald Dahl book, Anderson turns what had become his greatest weakness into his greatest strength and makes Fantastic Mr. Fox one of the best films of the year.
“Boggis and Bunce and Bean, One short, one fat, one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean.”
Mr. Fox. (George Clooney), Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), and their sullen son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), live a cozy life in a tiny borough but Mr. Fox wants more. Feeling trapped by his domestic life, he returns to his wilder days by robbing Boggis, Bunce, and Bean of their goods and then just slapping discount stickers on the items as an inept means to fool Mrs. Fox. Meanwhile, Ash falls into the shadow of his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) and becomes even more sullen and desperate to earn his father’s approval. However, Mrssrs. Boggis, Bucne, and Bean care little for the family matters of foxes and attempt to destroy the thieving Mr. Fox any way they can. This results in chaos for all the creatures living under the hill and in order to make things right Mr. Fox must discover if he’s really as clever as he thinks he is.
The tale is told through meticulous stop-motion animation, which is of a completely different style than this year’s other major stop-motion animated feature, Coraline. Anderson demanded his animals have fur, big comical expressions, and inhabit a world that feels like a five-minute story on a 70s children show, but stretched to a full-length film. However, Fantastic Mr. Fox never feels long and Anderson’s signatures of bright colors, direct angles, folk and classic rock, all enhance the film rather than feeling forced upon it in order to let people know that this is “A Wes Anderson Film”. You’ll still notice it but you’ll then wonder who else could have done this movie better.
Thematically, Fantastic Mr. Fox is the same as previous Anderson films with the flawed father figure, the dysfunctional family, and the bizarre coping methods they use to renew their relationship, but with this movie it’s the undercurrent rather than the emphasis. Above all, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a family film that’s silly without ever being stupid. For example, when characters want to curse, they use the word “cuss” which adults understand not only as a substitute but as wordplay with the word’s use to describe annoying animals, which is what Boggis, Bunce, and Bean would refer to Mr. Fox and his friends. It’s a sly and clever tone and it fits perfectly with the main character and plot.
Anderson’s direction turns from affect to effect with Fantastic Mr. Fox and it results in what is easily his best film since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Dropping the angst and daddy issues, Anderson just has fun and the result is a movie that’s smart, funny, and a charming as cuss.
Rating —– A