Wes Anderson’s latest flick, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” is a cool caper
Mr. Fox — Foxy to his friends — is one cool customer.
The protagonist of Wes Anderson’s latest film, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” he exudes a swaggering nonchalance — a mixture of Rat Pack cool and sheer animal magnetism. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mr. Fox is voiced by Hollywood heartthrob George Clooney.
As the film opens, Mr. Fox and his beloved (Meryl Streep) are enjoying a leisurely stroll through the countryside when they decide to grab an afternoon snack. They dart into a nearby chicken house, pocket a few pullets and escape — only to be trapped by a clanging metal cage.
With imprisonment and death an increasing likelihood, Felicia makes an announcement: “Fox, I’m pregnant.” She makes him promise to give up his chicken-thieving ways, for the sake of their future family.
Twelve fox-years later, Mr. Fox is a respectable newspaperman with a loving wife and a quirky young son (Jason Schwartzman). Then he decides to move the Fox family from their homey hole into a stylish new tree house.
Located inside a spreading oak on a gorgeous hilltop, the Fox family’s new digs couldn’t be nicer. It’s mere coincidence that they just so happen to overlook the properties of Mssrs. Boggis, Bunce and Bean — three of the wealthiest, nastiest farmers in the land.
The rotund Boggis tips the scale at 340 pounds, thanks to his diet of whole roast chickens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bunce, a dwarfish fellow, subsists solely on doughnuts stuffed with goose liver from his flocks. And lean, mean Bean (Michael Gambon, deliciously vicious) drinks gallons of alcoholic apple cider, a glorious substance rumored by the animals to taste like liquid gold.
With so much bounty just a hill away, Fox gets restless.
“Who am I?” he asks Kylie, a dim-witted possum. “Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?”
Clearly, Mr Fox is experiencing the vulpine equivalent of a midlife crisis.
No sooner has Fox nabbed his first plump, juicy hen than he’s back to his old ways — enlisting Kylie and his nephew, Kristopherson (Wes’ brother, Eric Anderson), who’s visiting the Foxes. His nocturnal activities seem harmless at first, but they soon draw unwanted attention.
You see, Boggis, Bunce and Bean don’t like being stolen from.
They declare war on the entire wildlife community — bulldozing the Fox family’s beautiful home and driving the animals (including Bill Murray as Beaver, Wes Anderson as Weasel and Owen Wilson as Coach Skip) underground without food or water.
Now, led by the sly Mr. Fox, the beasts must band together to strike back at the evil farmers. They must become wild animals once more.
With “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Wes Anderson faces the same challenge that plagued “Where the Wild Things Are” director Spike Jonze. How do you adapt a childhood classic for the big screen without sacrificing the qualities that made it so magical in the first place?
Whereas Jonze used Maurice Sendak’s beloved picture book to explore childhood anxieties, Anderson and his regular screenwriting partner, Noah Baumbach (“Margot at the Wedding”) try a more light-hearted approach.
Their hip screen version may bear only a partial resemblence to Roald Dahl’s book, but it has the same irrepressibly cheeky humor, the same touch of magic and whimsy.
The setting is Dahl’s beloved English countryside, the characters his fond wildlife friends. But the dialogue? That’s pure Wes Anderson.
Just witness the genuinely funny, yet heartfelt, interactions between Alexander and Ash, who clearly resents his cousin’s natural confidence and athleticism. Close your eyes and it’s like listening to two human siblings squabbling.
Audience members would be remiss, however, to ignore “The Fantastic Mr. Fox’s” dazzling mix of digital and stop-motion animation. It’s a true treat to watch wind ruffling fur, or Ash and his schoolmates playing a frenzied game of Whackbat.
Cinematographer Tristan Oliver (“Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”) bathes the entire movie in a rich autumnal glow.
Like his crew, Anderson is so confident, so sure of his ability to charm the audience, that his pacing can be rather alarming. The film’s opening scene in which Fox and his missus nab a few squab from a poultry farm, undoubtedly took months to plan out and shoot. Yet it whizzes by in mere seconds.
When you find a world this fantastic, you like to linger for a while.
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