In his previous films like “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tennenbaums,” filmmaker Wes Anderson has shown an offbeat and quirky sense of humor.
At first blush, Anderson wouldn’t seem to be a likely candidate to make a “children’s” movie. His gleefully subversive nature might seem a bit cheeky for kids.
But his playful sensibility blends well with that of caustic children’s author Roald Dahl in the cinematic adaptation of Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
In keeping with his idiosyncratic nature, Anderson has rejected the contemporary standard of computer-generated animation and has opted to make his version of Dahl’s story in old-school stop-motion animation.
It was an inspired choice. The retro look helps establish a funky, eccentric vibe that is further fleshed out in Anderson’s script.
George Clooney (“Men Who Stare at Goats”) leads the voice talent as Mr. Fox, a newspaper columnist who, true to his foxy nature, can’t help but steal chickens from local farmers.
His wife (Meryl Streep from “Julie & Julia”) has extracted a promise that he refrains from stealing, but the urge is too great for him to resist.
Mr. Fox decides to raid three large local farms run by Mr. Boggis, Mr. Bunce and Mr. Bean, respectively. These heists lead to complications that ultimately have a profound affect all of the local wildlife.
Anderson expands Dahl’s story and pushes the animal characters to greater levels of anthropomorphism.
The amusing supporting characters include Badger (Bill Murray from “Zombieland”), Mr. Fox’s son Ash (Jason Schwartzman from “The Darjeeling Limited”), Rat (Willem Dafoe from “The Vampire’s Assistant”) and Kylie the Opossum (“Simpson’s” writer Wallace Wolodarsky).
Anderson has recruited his brother Eric to voice the character of Kristofferson, Ash’s cousin who comes for a visit and becomes his rival in school and in love.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Anderson’s film is his ability to nail the comic timing within the framework of stop-motion animation. The idiosyncratic nature of Anderson’s world is still evident in this animated netherworld.
This strength may be a weakness for family audiences, however. While it should appeal to parents, it may be a bit too sophisticated for some of the kids. The very young may find some of the humor flying well over their heads.
The beautiful animation is the creation of Mark Gustafson and cinematographer Tristan Oliver, who each deserves a large chunk of the credit for the movie’s success.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” may not quite live up to its descriptive adjective, but it comes close.
(PG) Rating: ***1/2
* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it