Maybe it’s not surprising that it took a fox to help burrow Wes Anderson’s head out of his own ass. After Anderson devolved from endearing quirk to annoying preciosity over the course of his five-film career, the director’s first animated feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox, feels like a reinvention—or perhaps a realization that his live-action caricatures would be more entertaining as actual cartoons.
Fantastic Mr. Fox, of course, is adapted from the Roald Dahl book and expanded à la Where the Wild Things Are to big-screen depth by Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach. The gist of the story involves the domestication and subsequent restlessness of the titular character (George Clooney), a fast-talking, sly you-know-what who spent his early years living underground and stealing chickens with his better half, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep). When she becomes pregnant with their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), though, she asks him to change his ways.
Twelve years later, they’re living in a tree condo (albeit one they hope to “flip”). Mr. Fox writes for a newspaper but gets lured back to his old lifestyle when he discovers that his neighbors are greedy farmers by the names of Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and Bean (Michael Gambon). “One more raid”—with the help of his partner, a dopey opossum named Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky)—becomes a series of them. Mrs. Fox can’t help but eventually notice, and when she confronts her husband, his unapologetic apology is, “I’m a
On its deepest level, Fantastic Mr. Fox deals in existential dilemmas (“Who am I?” Mr. Fox ponders) and the compromises of marriage. Mostly, though, the film is fun. The characters’ A-list voices (which also include Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray) lend a velvet sophistication to the dialogue. The jokes are charming and low-key, such as Kylie’s whirling eyes whenever the opossum zones out during Mr. Fox’s fast-talk or the use of the actual word “cuss” as the characters’ go-to imprecation (“Are you cussin’ with me?”).
The animation, too, is top-notch. The eyes on these animals—even Kylie’s—are more expressive than anything Robert Zemeckis has ever motion-captured, and their
intricately rendered bristles of fur seem virtually tactile. The film as a whole is smart
and entertaining and achieves that near-impossibility of being equally fit for kids and adults. One asterisk: It’s still not Pixar. But it’s not The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, either, and for hungry Anderson fans, that’s enough of a triumph.