Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
Directed by: Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”)
Written by: Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”)
If it wasn’t for Spike Jonze and his beautifully somber retelling of “Where the Wild Things Are,” Wes Anderson would be the leading vote-getter this year as the director with the most imagination for his whimsical and detail-oriented animation “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Look behind you Pixar; this is a sly one.
Based on the classic Roald Dahl children’s book of the same name, which was published in 1970, Oscar-winner George Clooney (“Syriana”) lends his voice to Mr. Fox, a risk-taking carnivorous and clever newspaper columnist who promises his wife Mrs. Fox (two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep) that he will find another line of work after they are both caught stealing chickens.
Twelve years later, Fox is a family man with a son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), who he really can’t bond with, and a craving to return to his animalistic nature and go on another heist after a long hiatus. Call it a mid-life crisis, but Fox needs an adrenaline rush again. “I’m a wild animal,” is the reason he gives his better half when she finds out he and his loyal friend Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), an easily- influenced opossum, are scheming to steal from Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, three of the meanest farmers this side of the woods.
But while Fox is off jumping fences and getting ready for their “triple-header master plan,” Ash is left to fend with his own insecure teenage problems. His lack of self-confidence is magnified when his much more talented cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes for a visit and is immediately accepted by Fox as a member of his chicken- thieving crew.
Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, however, aren’t going to let one sly little fox outsmart them. Armed with dynamite, bulldozers, and rabid beagles, they go on a full assault against Fox and his family, who inhabit a tree across the field from where the farms sit. The farmers push them farther and farther into the terrain and force them to make an intricate series of paths to stay alive.
Masterfully crafted in a screenplay penned by Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”), much of the writing duo’s snarky and sardonic dialogue works charmingly well coming from the mouths of fuzzy creatures who wear corduroy jackets and bandit hats and dance as silly as the Peanuts gang. There’s even a witty ongoing gag throughout the film where Anderson and Baumbach replace any expletives they would have used in one of their grown-up films with the word “cuss.”
Driven by old-fashioned stop motion animation, the style of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” looks like nothing you’ve seen in the past few years. It’s a handmade work-of-art with a wonderfully eccentric and heartfelt message about fathers and sons and what it really means to be “fantastic” when you’re just so different from everyone else. If Anderson has proven anything in his 15-year career, that would be the perfect sentiment.