Ladies and gentlemen: I present to you the best animated film of the year. Wait, how can an old-school stop-motion film beat out computer generated 3-D extravagant fare like Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Coraline? Because director Wes Anderson has captured the heart of the original Roald Dahl story and created a masterpiece of a film.
Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is an adventurer and risk taker. For date night he takes Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) out to steal chickens from a local farm. It’s something he’s great at and it gives him an adrenaline rush like no other. One night, while out on a hunt, they get trapped by a farmer and Mrs. Fox tells him that she’s pregnant. Excited about the news, Mr. Fox promises that if they get out he will stop his crazy ways, settle down and be a family man.
Skip ahead many “fox years” later and Mr. Fox is now a columnist for the local paper. He and Mrs. Fox have a son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) and the family all lives happily in their hole. That is until Mr. Fox, who wants something bigger and better for them, purchases a new abode situated in a big tree. His lawyer, Badger (voiced by Bill Murray), advises against the purchase as it’s very close to three farmers — Boggis (voiced by Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (voiced by Hugo Guinness) and Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon). These farmers are a mean bunch and will do everything in their power to protect their property.
Not long after moving in to the tree, Mr. Fox gets tempted to steal from them. One night it’s a chicken, the next night is ducks and turkeys, and then cider by the bottles. All the while he keeps his thievery hidden from Mrs. Fox. Once the farmers figure out what’s going on, they team up to stop him. They shoot off his tail (yes, there is a little blood) and corner him in his tree. With nowhere else to go the Fox’s begin to dig. They dig as deep as they can in order to get away and stay safe. The farmers bring in a bulldozer and dig after them. This continues for many days until there is a huge hole and neither side is giving up. In the process all the other animals in the area are uprooted and forced into hiding too, and they blame Mr. Fox. Eventually a plan between the animals is devised and they work together to thwart the farmers.
Fans of Anderson will enjoy the wit of the dialogue, as well as the overall sense of the film. The muted colour palette, the voices, and the score are all typical of Anderson’s style. He adapted the cherished book along with Noah Baumbach, who also co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with him. Like Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are adaptation earlier this year, they do the source material justice while making it their own. The essence of what made the Dahl story so good is never lost, and kids and adults will equally enjoy it.
There are so many things I loved about Fantastic Mr. Fox that’s it hard to pinpoint one thing that stands out. Schwartzman’s deadpan delivery as Ash was wonderful but all the voices work very well. The way the characters use the word “cuss” when they want to swear is great and the vibe of the animation is truly excellent. If I had one complaint, it’s that it was too short but that could be why it worked so well.
My four stars could easily be a five-out-of-five upon repeat viewings. And Fantastic Mr. Fox deserves to be watched many times.
**** out of 5 stars
ALSO OPENING THIS WEEK: Ninja Assassin, Old Dogs
Top image: A scene from Fantastic Mr. Fox. Courtesy Fox Searchlight.