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Fantastic Mr. Fox

by on March 22, 2010
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A rollicking, irreverent, silly joy ride that also happens to house a very adult story about growing old, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was pretty easily the best animated film of last year, Academy Awards notwithstanding.

“Fox,” based on the Roald Dahl children’s book,  is the story of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), a middle-aged varmint feeling the call of the wild as he approaches middle age. He’s got a wife (Meryl Streep), a son (Jason Schwartzman) and a small hole in the ground he lives in.

He wants more, though, namely another crack at raiding the stocks of farmers Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guiness), and Bean (Michael Gambon), just like he did in the old days.

He conults with his attorney, a badger (Bill Murray), and buys a house near their farms, then sneaks out on the sly with his possum pal Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) and helps himself to the farmers’ products.

War is declared by the farmers, who track down Fox to his home, shoot off his tail, and start digging after him. But is Fox sly enough to evade the farmers?

For years Wes Anderson has honed his signature wry, deadpan humor to a sharp edge, and here produces sharp-cutting,  deft, satisfying work. He skillfully adapts Dahl’s straighforward narrative into a rich, interesting animal world full of hierarchies and side stories without drawing attention from the main plot.

At this point it’s almost cliche to say an animated film is appealing to both adults and children. Instead I consider “Fox” an animated film for adults that happens to be completely appropriate for children.

The stop-motion puppet animation is terrific, adding to the comedy and providing unexpected opportunities to convey emotion. It’s fun in close-up shots to see the characters’ fur rippling as they speak, and it adds to the film’s overall charm (which is pretty weighty to begin with).

Anderson also weaves in terrific hipster dialog, including Fox’s signature whistle/click that I defy you to not imitate for days afterward, and the characters’ repeated use of the word “cuss” as an exclamation.

If you haven’t seen “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and you have children, you’re missing out on a terrific shared experience with your offspring. If you don’t have children and you haven’t seen “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” well, you’re missing out on a terrific experience shared with your significant other, or friends or family, or just with yourself.

DVD extras are not as robust as they could be, with a couple of making-of featurettes and a “Beginner’s guide to Whack-Bat.” A commentary track could have been fun and informative, but it’s hard to complain with the feature itself is so darn good.