Imagine if “The Royal Tenenbaums” had been an animated film about the mishaps of a family of Foxes and their furry friends. Well if you do, what you’re left with would probably be pretty similar to Wes Anderson’s brilliant new film, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The film, which is by far one of the most original and enjoyable movies of the entire year is perfect for any fan of Anderson’s past films but also works quite well for anyone not familiar with the director’s work. What is amazing about this film is the way Anderson’s unique eye lends to the animation in the movie almost seamlessly to create a rich and completely believable environment. All the quirkiness, attention to detail, subtle humor, music and actors that you would expect from an Anderson film appear and it makes the movie more than just the adaptation of a beloved children’s book but instead transcends the film into an outstanding artistic achievement and a family film that can be appreciated and loved by children and adults of all ages.
The film begins with a quick introduction to our main characters, Mr. Fox and the future Mrs. Fox. The two foxes are doing what Mr. Fox does best, stealing chickens when they are suddenly caught. The female fox, played as warm and witty as ever by Meryl Streep, confesses that she is pregnant and requests that Mr. Fox retire and find a less risky line of work. Mr. Fox, George Clooney in a remarkably perfect role for him channeling a more devious Danny Ocean, agrees to retire on two conditions. The first, that she marries him and the second, if they get out of the trap alive. The film flashes forward two years, or seven in fox years, and shows us that Mr. and Mrs. Fox are now living a quiet life in a whole with their son Ash, again wonderfully animated by Jason Schwartzman who is able to really make you think that he is an adolescent fox. Mr. Fox is now a newspaperman and no longer steels chickens or other food however; he is bored with his life. He contemplates buying a new house, a better home in a tree that he shows disinterest for at first but is convinced to buy when he realizes that his new neighbors would be Boggis, Bunce and Bean, the three biggest and meanest farmers around.
Against the advise of Badger, the Foxes lawyer and advisor played delightfully well by the always wonderful Bill Murray, Fox buys the house and his family moves in. Soon the Foxes' nephew, Kristofferson moves in which causes much jealousy with young Ash who longs to get his Father’s attention and approval. Ash, who fancy’s himself an athlete doesn’t take well to his cousin’s friendly attitude and preternatural athletic abilities. Mr. Fox doesn’t seem happy in his new life and feels stuck by the promise he made to his wife so behind her back, along with his friend a opossum named Kylie, he begins robbing the farmers one by one. What follows is a chain reaction of events that eventually leads the farmers to pronounce war on the Foxes and destroys their home. Now with the entire animal world angry with Mr. Fox for what he has caused, his wife mad for breaking his promise and his family and friends on the run, Fox must set right all that he has done wrong. In the process he manages to get his tail shot off by Bean, (Michael Gambon) who decides to wear it as a tie to add further insult. He crosses hairs with his archenemy the Rat, played with wonderful dark humor by Willem Dafoe and in trying to help his uncle Kristofferson is captured by Bean. Ultimately, our heroes must save Kristofferson from the evil Bean and at the same time, find a sense of love and adventure that Mr. Fox had felt was missing from his life, and he gets his tail back too.
What is amazing about this film is that Anderson is able to pack all the humor, weirdness, family values and love from his previous films, attributes that in a way have become his calling card, into this new and fantastic medium. Taking an old technique, stop-motion animation and finding a new way to make it come alive is the filmmaker’s real triumph here as he finds a way to make it seamlessly blend with his unique storytelling abilities. The cast is awesome and Clooney and Streep are excellent additions to Anderson’s group of players. They fit into his world and seem to get the odd humor right away. Clooney really carries the film by grounding it in his cool excitement in a way that only he can. Clooney hits it out of the park with his character’s trademark whistle and clicking sound, which is a great running gag throughout the film. Streep is equally marvelous and her tender caring really shines through in a quiet scene with Clooney where she say’s “You really are a quote unquote fantastic fox.” Schwartzman creates a wonderfully colored character in Ash and you really feel his pain without resenting the character. Murray and Gambon are excellent in their roles respectively and watch for Murray’s opening scene with Clooney, it is a classic. However, I must mention Willem Dafoe as the Rat. In both of his two scenes he virtually steels the film away from his other actors playing a German Nazi-like rodent.
Another thing Anderson does with great effect in the film is make the audience forget that they are watching animals but at the same time never forget. They act so human-like that you just believe it but are always reminded of their animalistic side in scenes where they eat of fight like animals. The animation itself is a great achievement as you never once think, “I’m watching a cartoon,” but instead fully immerses you in this world. In fact, the animation was done with such painstaking detail that you can actually see the fur on the character’s noses blow in the wind in close ups, its pretty astonishing work. Also, much like “Frak” replaced the F-word on “Battlestar Galactica,” “Cussing” is the substituted word here to great effect. “Are you cussing with me?” Clooney’s character asks Murray’s character at one point. “The cuss you are,” he replies. It’s exchanges like this that you could only find in a Wes Anderson film.
The script co-written by “The Squid and The Whale” director Noah Baumbach is extremely strong, rich and vivid and deserves a Best Screenplay nomination at this years Academy awards. As does Anderson’s direction that is probably at the best of his career in this film, which may be his crowing jewel of achievement. In a year of interesting and boundary-pushing films, animated or not, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” deserves to be at the top of the list. With ten films having to be nominated for best picture this year it would be a shame not to nominate this one simply because it is animated, as it is so much more than that. It is a film that transcends it’s own medium to tell a simple store about family, love, the pursuit of happiness and friendship. Children will love the visuals and understand the basic story but it is the nuanced humor and the deeper issues of the film that adults will gravitate towards. “The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a triumph in filmmaking and is by far one of the best and most original films of the year. I can’t recommend this film enough so do yourself a favor and go see it this holiday season.