December 3, 2009

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Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG)
George Clooney gives voice to a sophisticated Fox who considers a career in gentlemanly thievery in the stop-motion animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, a charming adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel.

She says, as if she’s read the novel. And I haven’t, but I read other Dahl classics as a kid and in addition to being a little bit terrifying I liked how they didn’t shrink at having grumpy, mean or snotty characters. And Mr. Fox is in that tradition.

It is also in the tradition of Wes Anderson, creator of Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums and The Life Aquatic. And, as I’m sure every other reviewer has said in connection with this film, if you didn’t like Anderson and his precious, mannered, smarty-pants approach to story-telling in those movies, you’re not going to like it any better here just because Owen Wilson appears on screen as a furry animal instead of his surfer bum self.

As it turns out, I do like Anderson and all his little quirks. I liked that when I saw Mr. Fox (Clooney) and his friend Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) make plans to break into the farms of disagreeable local farmers (voiced by Michael Gambon, Hugo Guinness and Robin Hurlstone) I could feel the rhythms of similar scenes from Bottle Rocket. Breaking into farms to steal chickens isn’t just a lark for Mr. Fox — it used to be his career before his wife Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) got pregnant and made him give it up. But now Mr. Fox, making a meager living as a newspaper columnist, wants to move his family — rounded out by his teenage (in fox years) son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) — out of their hole in the ground and into a tree. Despite the advice of his lawyer Badger (Bill Murray), Fox buys the expensive tree and turns to crime to keep his family afloat.

Will kids like Fantastic Mr. Fox? Frankly, I have no idea. I liked it — from its moments that seem cribbed from 1930s screwball comedies to its very Dahl-esque adventures and peril. Fantastic Mr. Fox, like the William-Powell-ish Mr. Fox, like the Clark Gable-y George Clooney, is charming. It’s giddy and effervescent and possibly just cartoony enough that little kids might laugh at the furious digging the foxes have to do when they get in trouble or their strange little dance scene. But even if they don’t, I’m perfectly satisfied. B

Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor. Directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach (from the book by Roald Dahl), Fantastic Mr. Fox is an hour and 28 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Fox Searchlight.