Ed reviews 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' 

5 stars, (PG)

click to enlarge fantastic_mr._fox.jpg
You know the phrase "for children of all ages?" Fantastic Mr. Fox is sort of like that, except that the word "children" might give some people the wrong impression. Yes, the film is a cartoon. Yes, it's based on a Roald Dahl children's story. But it's not a children's movie that can be appreciated by all ages. It's simply a movie that can be appreciated by all ages, though I suspect that grown-ups will get even more out of it than kids.

There's certainly plenty of slapstick and surprises for the little ones and the unique look and feel of the film should also grab them. All of that is just as rewarding for adults, but the production boasts additional treats for us. The story is more sophisticated than the title implies, as is the dialogue. It never becomes pretentious, though there are digressions that some have criticized as being indulgent. Not me - I loved them.

Director Wes Anderson is the man responsible for Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. Anderson is known for composing his movies like ornate picture books, and for mixing matter-of-fact dialogue with lots of deadpan humor. He annoys the hell out of some, who consider him smug and precious. I've enjoyed almost all of his work, but I won't get into the Anderson debate here.

What you need to know is this. All of the traits Wes Anderson is criticized for in his live-action movies work perfectly in this delightful stop-motion animated cartoon. Fantastic Mr. Fox has a retro picture book look that is a wonder to behold. The herky-jerky nature of the stop-motion animation (think the original King Kong) combined with the mix of textures gives the movie an irresistible hand-made feel. And it has lots of laughs.

The story follows dapper Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), a Danny Ocean -style smoothie who agrees to stop raiding hen houses and settle down when Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) becomes pregnant. Cut to several years later - Mr. Fox is a newspaper writer and his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) feels estranged from his pop, who seems to like visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) more than his own boy.

The action surrounds Mr. Fox's decision to pull off the proverbial "one last job," which leads to an elaborate war between the local animal community and three human businessmen, led by the wrathful Mr. Bean (Michael Gambon). Other notable names include Bill Murray as a badger lawyer, Wally Wolodarsky as Kyle the opossum, Willem Dafoe as a sleazy rat, Owen Wilson as Coach Skip and Jarvis Cocker as Petey the banjo-playing farmhand. Usually, the voice talent for cartoons do their work one at at time in various studios. Here, Anderson brought the cast together and performed the scenes like a play. It works. The exchanges in the film seem genuine.

I was repeatedly amused by the contrast between the animals' refined verbal exchanges and their bursts of wild animal rawness. I appreciated the military tactics of the animals and their opponents. The emotional aspect of the movie, though familiar, was still rewarding. Fantastic Mr. Fox is funny, great to look at and listen to, and refreshingly unlike any movie I've seen in a very long time.

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