Fantastic Mr. Fox Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated December 3rd, 2009 at 11:26 am,

Short Version: Fantastic Mr. Fox is a pleasantly surprising film that is odd, witty, and probably more fun for adults than kids.

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I am not a Wes Anderson fan. Rushmore didn’t make me swoon; The Royal Tenenbaums made me groan; The Life Aquatic was no “masterpiece” far as I could tell and I didn’t even bother with The Darjeeling Limited. In fact, everything Anderson has done after Bottle Rocket has ultimately fallen on my cinematic bad side. Hearing his name brought up in classrooms and discussed as if he is the Shakespeare of cinema has only compounded that antagonism. If we were to play the word association game and you said “Wes Anderson” my immediate response would likely be “Pretentious and overrated.”

I went to see Fantastic Mr. Fox because, frankly, somebody on the site needed to review it. I wasn’t expecting much. What I found, however, was a film that is odd, witty, clever, unique – basically all those words Wes Andersonites usually attribute to their beloved director’s work. And while I may not be one of the converted just yet,I’m starting to come around just a bit.

The film loosely (and with some winking irony) adapts the classic children’s novel The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. The story of the novel was simple: Mr. Fox lives in a fox hole and every night he steals fowls and cider from three ruthless and wealthy farmers in order to feed his fox family. One day, the farmers get fed up and decide to lay siege to Mr. Fox’s hole, forcing Fox and family to literally go underground. There, the Fox family meets other animals driven from their homes because of the farmers’ swath of destruction and with a bit of crafty planning by Mr. Fox, the animals band together to outwit the cruel farmers.

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Anderson takes that simple story and stamps it up and down with his trademark off-brand wit and humor. In this modern take, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a thrill-seeking master thief who enjoyed life by doing what he does best (stealing livestock from farmers) until his wife, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), eventually got pregnant with their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman). Once a baby started cooking in the oven, Mrs. Fox demanded that Mr. Fox give up the risky life and settle for a steady, danger-free, day job as a newspaper columnist.

Of course, Mr. Fox eventually has a mid-life (in fox years) crisis, and feels compelled to resume his nightly thrill-seeking by robbing the heavily-guarded farms of Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Michael Gambon), three rich and cruel local farmers/industrialists. With some help from his Opossum handyman/friend, Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox soon finds himself back in top thieving form – that is, until the farmers catch on to his schemes and launch a terrible siege against the Fox clan. The Foxes abscond underground, partner with the other animals and try to outwit the bad guys.

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Indian Paintbrush is the stop-motion animation company behind the visual effects of Fantastic Mr. Fox and they’ve done a wonderful job on that front. The stop-motion animals look great and Anderson practically revels in having the film acknowledge its stop-motion format. There are weird times where characters are stopped with spiral-eyed expressions to indicate confusion (Kylie), or other times where the frame-to-frame jumps are exaggerated into humorously choppy sequences of movement. The animation style creates a unique and wonderful (and often gorgeous) world with a distinct play-time atmosphere that only adds to the fun.

My favorite bit of self-referencing humor, however, had to be the ironic winks at the classic storytelling technique of having animal characters act human. Like every Wes Anderson film, the characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox are smart and sophisticated society types (speak that way, act that way) – but they’re also animals, and Anderson never lets us forget it. There are great moments like watching the animal characters sit down at fancy banquet tables only to ravage their food like feral, well, animals a second later.

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In one particularly funny scene, Mr. Fox (Clooney) meets with his lawyer, Badger (Fall ’09 cameo king Bill Murray), to discuss a property investment. When the gentlemanly discussion turns sour, things devolve into two wild animals circling one another, growling, hissing and swiping with their claws, only to regain their refined composure a second later and resume the discussion. It’s funny stuff.

The voice acting is pretty well done. Clooney is great as Mr. Fox, lending his trademark witty charm to a famously witty and charming character. Streep is a bit undervalued, but Schwartzman is pretty hilarious as the Fox family’s black sheep (no pun) weirdo Emo son, Ash. There’s a whole subplot in the film dealing with Ash’s teen angst over being a runt and high school outcast, jealous of his athletic yoga-loving cousin, Kristofferson (Anderson’s brother, Eric, popping up yet again). That subplot had no real relevance to the actual main story and it tacked on some unnecessary runtime to the film, but somehow it was still entertaining to watch (and really quirky weird) at the same time. Ash is a weird dude, and Schwartzman (the go-to actor for quirky weird dudes) really does help the character stand out. Micheal Gambon similarly shines as the evil (and perpetually drunk) Franklin Bean.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox does lag a bit about halfway in, indulging just a bit too much in Anderson’s quirky delights (hence the 3.5 star rating), but it picks up steam again (eventually) and finishes off nicely. There are some great themes, some really great reoccurring lines (“Put this bandit mask on”) and some memorable characters to root for. There are also some nice surprise cameos that will make you smile (Owen Wilson as the coach of a ridiculously complicated sport, or Willem Dafoe as a villainous rat, for example).

In short: there are plenty of things in Fantastic Mr. Fox that are accessible and enjoyable for the average moviegoer. It’s still weird, still quirky and totally off-beat from what you think it will be – still totally Wes Anderson – but the fun is definitely there to be had.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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TAGS: 3 star movies, Fantastic Mr. Fox

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  1. I thought the animation looked good but I didn’t find the movie very funny at all.

  2. This is a kids film,,,

  3. My wife and I loved it. Was it perfect? Nah. Was it fun? Heck yeah! I thought it was… “engagingly” weird. Not weird like off-putting weird, but weird like your favorite relative at family get-togethers. The one with the off-center observations and jokes that a couple of your relatives don’t get, who still goes to the beach and actually swims, and who slyly rolls his or her eyes when your uncle starts in on his old spiel about how literature shouldn’t be taught in schools anymore. The one relative that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with outside of Thanksgiving. Okay, so they’re not the funniest or the richest, and they don’t go on the best vacations; but they’re a lot neater than your aunt, the nun, or your klepto cousin. Plus, the cat goes to the theater to see REAL plays… while your mom’s off rotting her brain at “Wicked”.

    4 out of 5. I agree, it sagged a bit in the middle. But I’d MUCH rather watch this movie sag a bit in the fourth act than watch the dessicated corpse of Jim Carry’s digital avatar cavorting through the nightmare fuel of A Christmas Carol. I’m reluctant to say it, being a Henry Selick fan, but Fox gives Coraline a run for the money as the best (hand) animated film of the year.

  4. The Life Aquatic is a masterpiece, one of my favourite films, so funny!

  5. I’m in near full agreement with you here Kofi. Not as far as this movie goes because I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m not a Wes Anderson fan either. Honestly I haven’t liked any of his films as far as I can remember. He tries to be smart, clever and meaningful with everything he does, but usually fails miserably.

  6. I’m dying to see this movie. The animation looks amazing and from what I’ve seen it’s pretty funny as well. I don’t think I’ve seen any Wes Anderson films, so I won’t have anything to compare it to, but it looks like a fun movie.

  7. Fantastic Mr. Fox kinda creeped my kids out……I thought the stop go animation was a cool well done throw back, but I did not really find it all that funny. I give it a 1.5

  8. We took my 10 year old son and my 6 year old nephew to see this and both boys were entranced with it. The 6 year old liked it at one level- my son liked it on an entire other level, and the two cousins both particularly liked the cousinly rivalry between Ash and Kristofferson. My son is a big Roald Dahl reader and his opinion was that although it ‘had more in it’ than the book ( which is pretty short) that everything ‘looked just like it was supposed to.’

    All the adults, including me, were charmed. This was so much more fun than the usual dreck for kids. Kids movies don’t have to be un-sophisticated and stupid. We also loved the music and my son asked us to get the soundtrack to play in the car. So it was a hit all around with us.

  9. I thought this movie was a disgusting smack in the face to a great children’s book writer. We got it on the recomendation of someone and regret it. What is the use of “cussing” being constantly used? I mean, to an adult maybe…MAYBE… that could be seen as funny but I would be horrified if I heard my kid quoate “Cuss me” in public! I thought that was horrible. If it wasn’t for the “cussing” I might be able to still let my kids watch it, since they had liked it, but that just ruined an interestingly made movie into just a b-rated B for bad.

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