Easily one of the most unique and memorable movies of 2009, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is funny, clever and Wes Anderson's best movie in years. Forget A Christmas Carol. Featuring an all-star cast that includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon and Owen Wilson, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is the family movie to see this holiday weekend - though parents will likely enjoy it much more than children.
Based on the classic Roald Dahl book, the movie is about Mr. Fox (Clooney), who, as a chicken thief, decides that he'll pull off one last heist against three evil farmers that live nearby. Unfortunately, his actions force the farmers to retaliate, and they set out to destroy him, his family and his friends. Trapped underground, the animals, led by the fantastic Mr. Fox, hatch a plan to claim victory once and for all.
Anderson, the director of the critically acclaimed Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, was an odd and extremely risky choice to direct a movie such as this. His last two movies, The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, were both disappointing, but Anderson's quirky style does not naturally lend itself to children's fare. And yet, just as the combination of Spike Jonze and Where the Wild Things Are was a rousing success, the synergy of Anderson's style and Dahl's work is incredibly good.
The Fantastic Fox works on many levels, including the wonky visual effects. Like a low-budget Chicken Run, The Fantastic Mr. Fox relies on stop-motion animation, but the animation is so awkward and jerky it's hard not to be entertained. The intentionally strange - or bad, if you will - animation plays in the film's favor; Anderson uses this technique to complement the picture's scripted humor with great precision.
Speaking of the script, the screenplay, also written by Anderson, is where the magic really lies. The story is layered with subtle intricacies of emotion, humor and adventure, something that has become a trend in children's movies in recent years. The relationship between Mr. Fox and his family brings sincerity to the picture, but it's also packed with lots of great jokes that will appeal to both children and adults. The dialogue is great, too. Clooney, who does much of the talking, brings the screenplay to life with his matter-of-fact sayings and almost-right wisdoms. The rest of the cast is pitch-perfect as well, resulting in a pleasing blend of goofy, emotional and off-the-wall characters.
There's hard to find a fault with the movie. It's hard not to smile while watching it, and the longer it goes, the more entertaining it gets. If there were a fault, it's that what was once a basic children's story is now something much more universal, which is good except for the original audience: the children. Kids should still enjoy it, but their appreciation for the animation, style and dialogue may be limited. Adults are much more likely to "get" the overall punch line.
Nevertheless, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a good-natured, fast-paced, heartwarming comedy and easily one of the better movies of 2009. Highly recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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