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Foxes and rabbits and chicken farmers, oh my: “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” is surreal yet touching

Shane Steinberg | Wednesday, December 2, 2009

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is an aptly released Thanksgiving delight for Wes Anderson fans. Interjecting his patented quirky, unlike-anything-else-out-there-Wes-Anderson-ness into a stop-motion animated film, Anderson gives his faithful following a whole new look and feel in a film that harkens back to “Chicken Run,” except that this film is catchier and more tailored to adults than its unassuming PG-rating might let on. Taking risks is the name of Anderson’s game. His style, which by now we’ve grown to love, is a risk in and of itself, and this film is certainly no exception. But it works, it really does.

The film’s title character, Mr. Fox (George Clooney), is a retired chicken bandit who has settled down to a life of writing a newspaper column that no one reads. His life predictable and numb, the now not-so-fantastic Mr. Fox longs to return to his old lifestyle even though by doing so he’d be breaking a promise he made to his wife (Meryl Streep) before marrying her.

A new house though, in an above-ground neighborhood located right near the infamous Boggis, Bunce and Bean farms, presents him with the perfect opportunity to regain his sense of being. The problem is that stealing livestock and Mr. Bean’s coveted alcoholic cider carries with it consequences that not even Mr. Fox, with his elaborate three-stage plan, can foresee.

A portrait family and community, put together action-by-action in an incredibly laborious fashion, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” is a story about realizing one’s true self while realizing the true value of those close to us. However, it’s not the film’s sappy message that carries it through its rather short runtime, but rather moments which so effortlessly elicit an uproar of laughter so weird, yet for Anderson fans, so weirdly familiar. Think about it, what would Pixar films be without their trademark brand of comedy? The same goes for Anderson’s first foray into full-length animated filmmaking, as his engaging story of a fox living his dreams is brought to a whole other level by that aforementioned unlike-anything-else-out-there-Wes-Anderson-ness.

The film is meticulous, down to the very motion of the each fox’s tail, which swirls accordingly as the fox moves, and to the precision of character injected into each animal, which somehow, and definitely not coincidentally, matches up with the person playing the part. It’s as though these foxes were made for the actors playing them, or as though these actors were made for the foxes they play in Anderson’s chicken-centered world. For example, Clooney’s Mr. Fox acts in a pretentious yet elegantly reserved manner that elicits a sense of “cool” best captured by Clooney himself, while Mrs. Fox seems an almost cut-out version of the more relaxed, non-“Mamma Mia” side of Streep.

Wes Anderson’s folk-like animated film seems surreal on so many levels, yet so close to the heart in the end, that its seems as real as any one of his best quirky portraits of life—with its subtitled chapters, odd humor and wonderful music montages. Its inherently his, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is, and you’d know it ten seconds into the film. “Up” perhaps not, but then again, “Up” is perhaps not “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” There should finally be a race in this year’s Best Animated Film category, and dare I say, Pixar might not win this one. In Wes Anderson fashion, here’s a toast to you sir, on thinking outside the box and going that extra mile, and doing it oh so well.