By Don Simpson | November 19, 2009
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer(s): Roald Dahl (book), Wes Anderson (screenplay), Noah Baumbach (screenplay)
Starring: (voice) George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Jarvis Cocker, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Helen McCrory
Once upon a time…we find Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and Mrs. ‘Felicity’ Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) as they prepare to raid a local farm. The heist (orchestrated beautifully to the Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains”) is successful – that is until Mr. Fox’s overconfidence causes him to trigger a trap and the two foxes find themselves caught in a cage. Felicity reveals that she is pregnant, and Mr. Fox promises to find much more respectable employment…if they survive! (They obviously do.)
Two human years later (14 years in fox years)…Mr. Fox is now a respectable yet poor newspaper man; he and Felicity now have a grown son named Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). The family lives, like most poor non-thieving foxes do, in a very humble hole in the ground – that is until Mr. Fox finds them a more respectable home (a tree) to reside in.
Conveniently, the new abode offers a scenic view of three farms: Boggis’ (voiced by Robin Hurlstone) chicken farm, Bunce’s (voiced by Hugo Guinness) duck and goose farm and Bean’s (voiced by Michael Gambon) apple farm (and, more importantly, cider cellar). The temptation is irresistible for Mr. Fox. For assistance (since he obviously can’t enlist Felicity), he enlists the superintendent of his new home, Kylie (voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky), an opossum with an uncontrollable habit of spacing-out mid-conversation.
After days of careful planning, Fox and Kylie raid Boggis’ chicken farm. They effortlessly surpass all of the facility’s traps, including the beagles (to whom Fox feeds blueberries laced with sleeping powder), and return home with a stockpile of chickens. The next night, Fox and Kylie pillage Bunce’s duck and goose farm. They easily escape with duck and geese aplenty without Bunce ever noticing. Needless to say, Mr. Fox is overflowing with confidence (and food) at this point with two flawless heists under his belt.
Farmer Bean is the meanest of the three farmers, but that doesn’t deter Fox and Kylie from raiding his cider cellar. This time Fox’s visiting nephew Kristofferson (voided by Eric Chase Anderson) comes along to assist them. (It is worth noting that Ash is insanely jealous of Kristofferson – a practitioner of karate, yoga and meditation, not to mention a natural athlete and an all around perfect young fox.) The three sleuths are briefly stymied by Rat (voiced by Willem Dafoe) – Bean’s security guard who appears to have been hired straight from a production of West Side Story. In the end they get away with cider, but when they arrive home they are discovered by Felicity – and let’s just say that she is devastated that Fox has reverted back to his old thieving ways. Unfortunately, Fox didn’t only just piss off his wife – Boggis, Bunce and Bean are intent on killing Fox by whatever means necessary.
The Fox family burrows deep underground (in total “Dig Dug” fashion) where they run into Badger (voiced by Bill Murray) – Fox’s lawyer and business advisor (who specifically instructed Fox to never mess with Boggis, Bunce or Bean) – and several other local residents. Being that it is Fox’s fault that they all find themselves deep underground, with no food or water, everyone is more than a wee bit perturbed with Fox. But Fox makes nice with his family and neighbors by digging tunnels to the middle of each of the farmers’ facilities, giving them endless access to all of the food that they could ever desire. Despite being quarantined deep beneath the earth’s surface, this is heaven. That is until the farmers finally find a way to flush the animals out.
Fantastic Mr. Fox finds director Wes Anderson (who also co-wrote the script with Noah Baumbach) doing exactly what he does best – plans. Anderson has a knack for developing elaborate plans for his characters that would put Wile E. Coyote to shame (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore). It seems like almost every scene in Fantastic Mr. Fox involves some sort of intricate (and comical) plan with lots of mapping and sketching – including Coach Skip’s (voiced by Owen Wilson) explanation of the inexplicable game “whack-bat” (okay, it’s not a plan per se, but it sure plays out like one).
Also typical for Anderson, the music is impeccably chosen and presented. The soundtrack ranges from the eclectic and obscure (“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by The Wellingtons; “Fooba Wooba John”, “Buckeye Jim” and “The Grey Goose” by Burl Ives; and “Let Her Dance” by The Bobby Fuller Four) to Anderson’s usual suspects (“Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones). There’s also one fantastic original song co-written by Anderson and Jarvis Cocker (who sings the song as Petey) – “Fantastic Mr. Fox AKA Petey’s Song.”
The stop animation and set design is incredibly beautiful and intricately crafted; it’s also very unique. (I watch a lot of stop animation, but I can’t think of anything that looks quite like Fantastic Mr. Fox – the closest comparison would probably be Wallace and Gromit but with dolls rather than clay.) The characters are outfitted in Anderson’s typical retro chic attire (corduroy suits, velour shirts, headbands), the interior design is very modern, and there are lots and lots of earth-tones everywhere. Essentially, Fantastic Mr. Fox looks exactly how you would expect an animated film by Anderson to look.
Most importantly, all of the voice talent is well cast and extremely natural. Honestly, I cannot imagine a more perfect voice for Mr. Fox than Clooney’s – and the same goes for the other characters and their voices as well. (There are some notable voices heard throughout the film: Anderson voiced Weasel; Garth Jennings voiced Bean’s son; Adrienne Brody voiced Field Mouse; Mario Batali voiced Rabbit; and the cinematographer Tristan Oliver voiced Explosives Man.)
For those of you that have not already heard, Fantastic Mr. Fox was adapted from Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same name; however, I wouldn’t consider Fantastic Mr. Fox to be a traditional children’s film (though it is fairly faithful to the tone and plot of Dahl’s book) – just as I wouldn’t consider Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are to be a traditional children’s film either. Anderson and Baumbach’s adaptation is ripe with deep existential philosophy and characters going through identity crises (for example, Mr. Fox’s dialogue features likes such as: “I think I have this thing where I need everyone to think I’m this quote-unquote fantastic Mr. Fox” and “I’m a wild animal and a husband and father”)…just as you would expect from both Anderson and Baumbach. Fantastic Mr. Fox is sure to fantastically excite Anderson’s past and current fans alike while simultaneously befuddling unsuspecting parents and young children at the local mega-plexes.