Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 12/12/09
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray

One of my favorite books growing up was Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which was a short and simple story about a family of foxes outwitting of group of nasty and unpleasant farmers. In cinematic form, it could probably be told in a half hour, so I was curious how director Wes Anderson was going to pad it out to ninety minutes. Naturally, it strays from the source material considerably by introducing family dysfunctionality, adolescent angst, teenage isolationism, school drama, romance, kidnapping, karate, and marital infidelity. This transforms the story from a simple children's adventure to a complicated adult morality play. Ultimately, what Anderson seems to be saying is that men are unfaithful and untrustworthy simply because it's in their nature.

The film opens with Mr. and Mrs. Fox (delightful George Clooney and Meryl Streep) moving from their standard fox hole into a new upscale tree house near the farms of notorious farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mr. Fox had made a promise to his wife to never raid another farm, but the temptation proves to be too great and he sets about doing that fateful "one last heist." While Mr. Fox is certainly cunning, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean turn out to be considerably dangerous adversaries and ultimately bring the fight back to his home. As the farmers start to dig up the Fox's new home, the Fox's in turn dig like crazy to escape. They eventually meet up with the other forest creatures who have also been holed up by the farmer's actions, and together they make daring plans for their survival. The film also adds a lengthy subplot to the story which involves Mrs. Bean capturing Mr. Fox's nephew and his subsequent rescue.

The film employs traditional old school stop-motion animation and has a very nostalgic and earthy feel. While the animation is superb, the puppet designs are a little creepy and their fur creates an unsettling bristling effect when they're animated. As a result, the film doesn't look as polished and professional as other contemporary stop-motion films like "Wallace And Gromit," "Coraline," or even "Robot Chicken." I suspect some of this may be on purpose to create a more quirky Rankin/Bass look and feel, but it's hard to tell. Regardless, it's certainly delightful to watch. The voice acting is excellent and really brings the characters to life. Where the movie really falters is in its bizarre soundtrack, which seemed both inappropriate and overly loud. The closing credits song actually hurt my ears with its loud and tinny sound, which is something I've never experienced in a movie before. Overall, I found the film to be delightfully fun and quirky, but it didn't quite live up to the "fantastic" moniker.