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Wes Anderson unleashes a fantastic Mr. Fox
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Wes Anderson unleashes a fantastic Mr. Fox

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Opening November 25


After a chicken robbery goes dangerously wrong, the confidently easygoing Mr. Fox (George Clooney) trades a career of death-defying exploits and escapes for the quiet life of a newspaperman, at the urging of his pregnant wife Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep). But domesticity is not all it's cracked up to be, and after 12 quiet years, the cagey animal returns to his wild ways and targets the farms of evil and mean Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon) for his triumphant return to thievery.

While at first things go well, the frazzled farmers attempt to exact their revenge trapping the Fox family - including son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) - and the rest of the local animal community underground in the sewers. Running out of food and time, Mr. Fox bands everyone together to use their own natural instincts to combat their foes, save their lives and make Boggis, Bunce and Bean look like the grotesquely grubby fools they are.

Based on the classic books by Roald Dahl, writer (working once more with Noah Baumbach) and director Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion marvel that just so happens to be a perfect addition to his quirky character-driven filmography. Like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited before it, this animated sensation is an odd, wildly funny enterprise that ranks as one of the year's finest achievements.

In all honesty, I'm not sure how much Dahl is left in Anderson and Baumbach's highly anachronistic screenplay. Mr. Fox, his family and his friends don't speak with any of the same cadences you'd find in, say, Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, acting instead like the same arch, supremely focused and highly sarcastic souls found in just about all of the director's works. These characters are Anthony Adams and Dignan all over again, but while they're still walking around on two legs their inherent natures are far more, if you'll excuse lingo, animalistic.

Yet the spirit behind all the chaos and insanity is still distinctly Dahl's. The irreverence is of the author's world, and watching it I couldn't help but think he'd applaud if he'd ended up having the opportunity to see what Anderson had done with his story. Dahl liked to buck convention, loved to show people - most of all youngsters - facing their obstacles with tenacity and courage. He liked to show that authority is sometimes worth mocking, all the while offering up a warmhearted moral that spoke to the way life should be.

On a purely narrative level, this is easily the director's best film since Rushmore. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a consistent marvel, going from highs to lows to all the places in-between with a cocksure confidence that's perfectly awesome. The characters pop off the screen, and between the sublime animation to the superb vocal work there isn't a single moment or scene that doesn't ring hysterically true.

I'm not sure what else there is to say. So many moments and lines are beyond sensational, verbal jousts between Clooney and Bill Murray (playing the lawyerly Mr. Badger) twisting into a series of grunts and snarls before morphing back once again into pleasantly silly conversations about the health of the wife and kids. For me, Schwartzman's Ash has many of the best lines - his dismantling of his lab partner is so on the money that just thinking about it now is making me giggle even as I try to write this review.

Like all of Anderson's surreal creations, I imagine his form of comedy isn't going to be for everyone. Combined with the stylized animation and the eccentric vocal work of his all-star cast, I fear a lot of this is going to fly right over the majority of viewers' heads. Pity, because if that ends up being the case, audiences are going to miss out on a film that will tickle their funny bones like little else this year. When all is said and done, Fantastic Mr. Fox is, well, fantastic, and to call it anything else would be a horse (or maybe a fox) of a different color.

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