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Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson’s Animated Comedy

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In a Wes Anderson movie, families never run smoothly but at least they run. In the animated comedy Fantastic Mr.Fox, they are running for their lives—a family of foxes menaced by a trio of evil human farmers. Of course, the rascally behavior of their furry father figure, this film’s counterpart to Royal Tennenbaum, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), triggers their troubles through his irresponsibility.

But as they say in the U.N. General Assembly, the human response is “disproportionate,” kind of like leveling a village because a boy hurled a stone against a tank.

Anderson inventively scripted and directed Fantastic Mr. Fox from a story by Roald Dahl (of Willy Wonka fame), depicting the characters and their setting with puppetry photographed in stop motion and set amid models and painted backdrops. More magic is produced by not bending backwards to appear realistic in the tiresome way of computer-generated animation when deployed by uninventive minds. Polishing an apple he just plucked from a tree against his corduroy blazer, Mr. Fox is a roguish dandy among animals, walking on two legs and holding down a job as a newspaper columnist without entirely losing his beastly hunger for danger.

Fox promised his wife, Felicity (Meryl Streep), that he would give up raiding chicken coops on the night she told him she was pregnant (his mortified expression at the news signals that this is a children’s film for adults). Running through Fantastic Mr. Fox is the existential dilemma of what we are as a species and the higher ideals we hold. It’s instinct versus responsibility, each pole gaining and waning in their hold over the thoughts and deeds of Mr. Fox.

There are, in keeping with Anderson’s previous films, misunderstood youths trying to find their footing. Fox’s son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) acts up because others see him as a gray shadow of his accomplished father. Ash’s unwelcome roommate, Cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), is another character from Darjeeling Limited, practicing meditation and occasionally manifesting his inner discipline by pummeling animal bullies.

It’s the people, however, who are the worst in this consistently amusing, occasionally laugh-out-loud comedy of conflict. Losing valuable livestock and goods from the nocturnal raids of Mr. Fox and his neurotic opossum sidekick, they try to kill the Foxes in an escalating series of battles that eventually pits the wild things of the woods against the farmers, townsfolk and the animals closest to humanity—dogs and rats. Anderson injects his screenplay with many droll touches, especially using the word “cuss” in place of harsh expletives, as in Mr. Fox’s realization: “This is going to be a total cluster cuss for everybody.” It is, but along the way, the Foxes and friends discover the value of community, expressed, in Mr. Fox’s words, to be “thankful and aware of each other.”