Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO

With a cast of talking stop-motion animated wild animals that are imbued with the herky-jerky charm of old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials ("Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"), it may seem like modern-day iconoclast filmmaker Wes Anderson has turned a corner into gentler, family-friendly waters.  And in a sense, he has - but make no mistake, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is a Wes Anderson film through and through, complete with the pre-requisite father-issues, family angst, and nihilism that we've come to expect from his decade of quirky R-rated fare such as "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (albeit, in smaller doses).  It even has such Anderson signature settings as mundane schoolrooms and science labs, as well as occasional detailed charts and graphics, not to mention a penchant for tan corduroy clothing, and any number of other accoutrements and flourishes held over from bygone eras of the not-so-distant past.  Toss in a few well-utilized but nostalgic songs by bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys, not to mention supporting actors Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, and you've got a picture in the official Wes Anderson style mold - one that is just as sure to delight his longtime boosters as it is to repulse those who maintain that his head goes further and further up his rump with each new film.

I'm of the opinion that Anderson's insights and talent have yet to be eclipsed by his undeniable creative self-indulgence.  "Fantastic Mr. Fox", starring George Clooney as the voice of the title protagonist, and Meryl Steep as the voice of his wife, is, for my money, a rare delight of a film.  It is the work of a current and vital artist, working with a clearly talented crew, all at the tops of their game.  In all my years of film viewing, I can't recall anything looking and feeling quite like this.  This is a deliberately rough-hewn and handmade film, aesthetically set apart from current work of today's stop-motion kings, Aardman Studios and "Coraline" director Henry Selick.  (All of whom I'm quite thankful for, by the way.)  Clearly, Anderson was afforded this opportunity to take on an animated project due to his established reputation as an artist, and the finished film will not let his fans down.


"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is based upon a book by the gloriously idiosyncratic author Roald Dahl; its screenplay adapted by Anderson and fellow family angst auteur Noah Baumbach.  In it, professional chicken thief Mr. Fox, smarting from having been abruptly emasculated by the traditional course his life has taken (having to become a responsible husband, father, as well as an honest career man), sets out secretly to reclaim his "wild animal side", and start stealing chickens from the local industrial poultry farms.   This midlife crisis, for lack of a better term, results in an all-out war between the Fox family and the 100+ human, well-armed employees of the farms, answering to their greedy and angry bosses. 


Mr. Fox carries his faults lightly, refusing to be done in by them, always relying on his magnetic and wily charm.  Along the way, his penchant for unintentional insensitivity offends and upsets his son and wife - behavior that places him firmly in line with Gene Hackman's Royal Tenenbaum or Murray's Steve Zissou.  The difference here is that the darkness of those live action films is lightened up ever so slightly.  In any case, in the end, the combination of Dahl/Anderson/Baumbach is a winning one, and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is a film that, while probably challenging for young children, is not what I'd consider inappropriate for them.  For Anderson's fans, new and old, it will remain a funny and insightful film to savor and return to again and again.


- Jim Tudor



Fantastic Mr. Fox

  • Wes Anderson
  • Roald Dahl (novel)
  • Wes Anderson (screenplay)
  • Noah Baumbach (screenplay)
  • George Clooney
  • Meryl Streep
  • Jason Schwartzman
  • Bill Murray
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Wes AndersonRoald DahlNoah BaumbachGeorge ClooneyMeryl StreepJason SchwartzmanBill MurrayAnimationAdventureComedy

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