Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Wes Anderson's funny, fabulous Fantastic Mr. Fox feels like a book that's been missing from his library, an all-ages comedy with tender life lessons gently imparted by lovable characters. For all I know, Roald Dahl is spinning in his grave, but the British author's book has provided Anderson with a badly-needed spark that reignites his creative juices. 

Not that Anderson's post-Owen Wilson collaborations with Noah Baumbach have been complete disasters. Somewhere alone the line, though, perhaps midway through The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and all the way through The Darjeeling Limited, it felt like Anderson's playfully twee tone wore thin. His characters, who have always teetered on the brink between self-absorbed and self-pitying, fell hard toward the irredeemably murky end of a perpetual personality crisis. 

It made you downright concerned that somebody might really kill themselves. 

All such thoughts are happily banished in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Reformed chicken thief Foxy (voiced by George Clooney) is contently entwined with his beloved wife (voiced by Meryl Streep). Twelve years ago he gave up his wild animal lifestyle when Mrs. Fox got pregnant. Their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is "different" -- not "different" like his athletic father, still wildly imaginative and popular, but "different" as in confusingly weird. In reality, he's the fox equivalent of an adolescent boy entering puberty and dealing with all the associated issues: What kind of fox will I be when I grow up? 

Ash's desire to follow in his father's footsteps are hampered by the arrival of cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), the kind of young fox who can make a perfect high dive into a tub of water while barely making a splash or mussing his hair. Mr. Fox treats Kristofferson like the long-lost son he never had, which definitely makes Ash feel threatened. Furthermore, Kristofferson also threatens to lure away Agnes (Juman Malouf), a fetching young classmate that Ash fancies.

Mr. Fox is dealing with his own life crisis. After 12 years of living in a hole with his family and working as a reporter for the local newspaper, he's hearing the call of the wild. Against the advice of Badger (Bill Murray), his lawyer, he buys a treehouse in sight of three huge farms belonging to the evil Bean (Michael Gambon), Boggis (Robin Hurlstone) and Bunch (Hugo Guiness). Mr. Fox cannot resist temptation and recruits his friend Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) in a caper that eventually endangers not only himself and his family, but the entire local animal kingdom.

This is very much a Wes Anderson picture, self-aware, somewhat self-conscious, the characters' neuroses, nervous mannerisms, and unexplained tics all fully on display, along with the director's predilection for sequences driven by grandiose classic rock and pop music (this time including a guest appearance by Jarvis Crocker, formerly of Pulp, as a musician named Petey). Yet everything is in service of the story, which makes for a glorious melding of sensibilities as twee meets Gee! Or, in the parlance of the movie, "What the cuss are you talking about?"

And it's the funniest flick that Anderson has made, with absolutely stellar work by the crew members who brought to life Anderson's very different vision of what stop-motion animation could be. Even though there are moments that are clearly computer-driven, everything else feels very handmade, which helps make the characters more endearing, more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life.

Smart, energizing, and never condescending to its characters or the audience, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a complete delight. 

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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