Movie Review: ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’

October 22, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
 (20th Century Fox)
(20th Century Fox)

Fantastic Mr. Fox sees auteur movie-maker extraordinaire Wes Anderson adapt beloved literary genius Roald Dahl. It’s arguable that not since Quentin Blake’s illustrations accompanied Dahl’s work has anyone so perfectly channelled the late, great children’s author.

Purists may not agree (although the Dahl estate does) as Anderson has organically tailored the unique tale to suit his particular sensibilities. So in other words, yes, this is somewhat of a dysfunctional family story.

Ignoring the advice of his lawyer Badger, Mr. Fox uproots Mrs. Fox and son Ash into an expensive beech tree in sight of three farms belonging to the notorious Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Of course before long, the domesticated Mr. Fox’s wild side is eager to be unleashed with so much temptation at paw.

Embarking upon a series of daring raids against the farmers with faithful possum pal Kylie as backup, Mr. Fox makes a mockery of their security measures and his family eat like royalty. That’s until the trio of stockmen, their ire at losing livestock beyond boiling point, seek revenge and hatch a dastardly plot against the whole surrounding animal community. Trapped underground without food, it’s up to Mr. Fox to come up with a fantastic plan to save them all and perhaps also get rid of the farmers for good.

A truly innovative animated tail (sic), Fantastic Mr. Fox is a lovingly hand-crafted, painstakingly produced, stop-motion film. Henry Selick may be the master and Nick Park unrivalled by his peers, but a surprisingly hands-on, new-to-animation Wes Anderson shows enough craft here to be comfortably mentioned in the same league.

Visually inventive with incredibly intricate attention to detail, the film’s anthropomorphised animals inhabit a heightened, picture book-looking “real world” rather than a cartoony invented one. Beautifully painted backdrops and lovingly crafted props interact with twitchy, jittery, imperfectly moving puppets to create a rougher, choppier style of animation than perhaps we’re used to. This aesthetic approach, these imperfections, combined with the staccato, pause-heavy dialogue gives the film its singular identity.

Providing the banterish dialogue and dry wit are some of Anderson’s “company of actors” (Bill Murray as Badger, Jason Schwartzman as Ash, Eric Anderson as cousin Kristofferson, a cameoing Owen Wilson as Whack-Bat coach Skip), alongside some perfectly cast vocal talent led by the naturally charismatic George Clooney as the caddish rogue Mr. Fox. He’s ably supported by Meryl Streep as the brains behind the brains Mrs. Fox, Brian Cox as a TV reporter, a wonderful Wally Wolodarsky as Kylie, Willem Dafoe as the villainous Rat, Jarvis Cocker cameoing as bonfire singer Petey and, most notably, the dulcet tones of Michael Gambon as boss baddie Bean.

Enthralling, charming and quirky, Fantastic Mr. Fox is something entirely unique and really quite special. Some will grumble that its leaves them emotionally unattached to the proceedings (a problem repeatedly levelled at Anderson’s oeuvre that I personally don’t find) but don’t let this put you off a one-of-a-kind experience. This is perhaps not one for the very young though; some of the action and dialogue is skewed towards the more mature, as, arguably, Dahl’s stories were themselves.