For those who read Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox during their childhood, or thereafter, Wes Anderson’s adaptation is definitely a fantastic take. Written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox isn’t exactly a childhood classic as much as it is an adaptation for the more mature audience. Filled with the platitudes, aesthetics and deadpan humor that make an Anderson film so engaging and real, Fantastic Mr. Fox brings adult characters to life in a stop-motion animation that is perhaps more likable to younger audiences. But the script and directing has all the tell tale signs that one is watching an Anderson film, and like most of his movies – from Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, to The Royal Tennenbaums and The Life Aquatic – audience will either fall absolutely in love with it, or hate it. As a fan of Anderson’s work, I am admittedly part of the former group.
While the plot of a fox who has a knack for stealing chickens but is forced to retire from a life of crime in order to enter fatherhood is simple enough, the story is really about how a character like Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) grows tired of fighting his natural instincts. He attempts to get back to his old career of thievery unbeknown to his wife, Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) only to face off with three farmers who spend the rest of the film trying to kill him. Similar to most of Anderson’s movie, the protagonist is a flawed character in search of that blaze of glory – always scheming, always falling apart, always coming back at the last minute for a moment of redemption after coming to terms with their true nature. “I’m a wild animal,” Mr. Fox admits in a scene of honesty with his wife. But beneath the dominating layer of that single character are others who are struggling to come to the forefront, such as Mr. Fox’s son, Ash (voiced by Jason Shwartzman) who tries everything to live up to the high bar his father has set just by being his naturally talented self. Ash is of course ignored and passed off as being “different”, but nevertheless sets off to prove himself and find his proper place in things before the story ends. The film is steeped with the undertones of a dysfunctional family trying to stick together during a crisis meant to tear them apart.
The animation is incredibly simple and enjoyable. Like most of Anderson’s movies, the characters seem to always be dressed in 1970’s style corduroys, and keep to a certain aesthetic. It is probably not a film intended for children, but rather one that plays straight to the heart’s content of much older audiences, particularly those familiar with Anderson’s work and perhaps waiting to see if he is able to break away from his traditional formulaic film making and create something new. Surprisingly, he manages to accomplish the latter while keeping true to the former.
By my book, it is arguably one of the best films of 2009 and does for stop motion animation what no other film has ever dared to do.