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“Fantastic Mr. Fox” Lives Up to its Name

Posted in Action, Comedy, Family/Kids, Oscar-nominated with tags , , , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by ericstraus

There are always certain elements you can expect from director Wes Anderson’s films, such as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tennenbaums” and “Life Aquatic”:  oddball characters that have emotional issues, writing that seems both realistic and unnatural, and an overall commentary on family dynamics.  All of these hold true in “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a stop-motion animation film based on Roald Dahl’s book.  But the one aspect of this film not usually found in Anderson’s work is slapstick comedy/physical humor; while the film is not dominated by this, it’s a welcome addition to compliment the entertaining story, great vocal acting, and a fun adaptation of the original novel.

In Dahl’s world, animal society mirrors human society – the animals have jobs, decorated homes, clothes, etc.  Most of them have embraced civility in place of their wild animal instincts.  George Clooney voices the title character, whose main vocation is stealing farm animals to feed his family.  His wife Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) accompanies him on these raids, but after nearly getting caught and announcing that she is pregnant, she convinces Mr. Fox that it’s time to settle down and focus on family, not midnight mischief.  We then fast-forward 12 years later, and find Mr. and Mrs. Fox have a son Ash (Jason Schwartzman).  The arrival of Ash’s cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) creates some discord – Kristofferson is a quiet, Zen-like character who becomes the object of Ash’s envy as he endears himself to Mr. Fox.  Mr. Fox has a job writing a column for an animal magazine, but we can tell he is not comfortable with his button-down, 9 to 5 life.  He seems to have more trouble suppressing his natural urges than the other animals, and when an opportunity arises to create some adventure, he seizes it.  On the pretense of wanting a home to be proud of, he buys a new house underground beneath a large tree.  He does this against the advice of his attorney Badger (Bill Murray), who warns him that the tree is near the farms of three of the meanest farmers around – Boggis, Bunce and Bean.  Boggis owns a chicken farm, Bunce has ducks and geese, and Bean has turkeys, apples and alcoholic cider.  But being near these farms is precisely why Mr. Fox wants this property.

He soon enlists the help of an opossum named Kylie, a local handyman of sorts, to raid the three farms.  Mr. Fox uses his cunning to create elaborate plans, and Kristofferson also joins the mischief.  Soon the Fox’s cupboard is stocked with pilfered goods, arousing the suspicion of Mrs. Fox that her husband is back to his old ways.  The three farmers become aware of their nemesis and band together to capture him.

The film is fraught with humor, both physical and via dialogue.  The animation, though seemingly low-tech, is very entertaining and charming.  The writing toes the line between clever and dramatic, which is ultimately similar to the balancing act that Mr. Fox must face – he has to balance who he is instinctively with his familial responsibilities; he steals food to feed his family, but the ire he creates in the farmers ends up putting his family and other animals’ lives in danger.  Kristofferson becomes the son-I-never-had character for Mr. Fox, forcing Ash to do his best to win his father’s love by trying to steal back his tail, which Mr. Fox lost while being shot at by the farmers.  Like with other Anderson films, we see elements of our own family dynamics in the Fox family, harmonized with both absurdity and realism.  The action is quick, and the film flies by at a scant 87 minutes.  But it’s a fun ride.

Final Grade for The Fantastic Mr. Fox: B+