The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson, the creator behind Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, seems perfectly matched to author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach). His deadpan humor and sly observations about modern relationships combine with Dahl’s wild, dark imagination to create one of the most enjoyable films of 2009.
Both creators excel at entertaining while keeping the viewer slightly off-balance. This movie masters that maneuver from the start, with animation that has a stop-motion herky-jerkiness, a lack of slickness that goes perfectly with a story that has rough edges, dark corners and the courage to occasionally steamroll right past common sense.
Clooney is the titular fox, a chicken thief who settles into a suburban family man with some oddball domestic turmoil … until dreams of past glory lead him to raid the stocks of the most ruthless farmers in the country, a dark trio that go to absolute war against Clooney and all his increasingly unhappy animal friends. Besides Anderson’s dry, quirky wit, the best thing here is the juxtaposition, usually sudden, jarring and hilarious, of animals acting like middle-class (human) suburbanites and acting like … a bunch of wild animals. It’s a juxtaposition the filmmakers explicitly point out several times, as well as use for laughs, so, you know, think that over and be prepared for a post-movie quiz.
Clooney, who is at his best when he’s the cool cat who suddenly finds things not going the way he planned, is at his best here. He’s backed by Meryl Streep, Anderson favorite Bill Murray, and, as the main villain, the incomparable Michael Gambon (known to the middlebrow as Dumbledore II, and to the higher-of-brow as the despicable Albert Spica, of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover). Throw in bit players like Owen Wilson (another Anderson avatar) and Willem DaFoe, and you’ve got a hell of a voice cast.
The film feels like it runs on a little longer than it needs to, but it is so funny, so entertaining, and so disinterested in being heartwarming (though in its schmaltzless way, it kinda is) that you don’t want it to end anyway. From the dry sarcasm and quietly aching need of Fox’s underappreciated son to a plot that is a little too mischievous and scary for small children (on-camera death scene, though not of a main/loved character), the movie is surprising, charming, and laugh-out-loud funny.
This thing is rated PG. Not all animated films are meant for kids (exhibit A: Heavy Metal). The humor is largely adult, in the sense of over-the-kids’-heads, not in the sense of sexual/inappropriate. Still, any grade-schooler should have a good time, and you’ll probably shape him/her into a better movie viewer. Today, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, tomorrow Juno or The Life Aquatic!