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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Anderson’s quirky ‘Fox’ a visual masterpiece

    It takes some serious cojones to compete with the Disney/Pixar meta-mind in the field of animated family features these days. Any hopeful contenders need either to offer some stunning revolution in visual media, or to be certifiably insane. Fortunately, indie ace Wes Anderson (“”The Life Aquatic,”” “”The Darjeeling Limited””) and his new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s childhood standard “”The Fantastic Mr. Fox”” meet both criteria.

    If you were a child or the parent of a child in the ’90s, you probably have at least an awareness of Dahl’s iconic epics: “”Charlie and The Chocolate Factory,”” “”Matilda”” and “”James and the Giant Peach”” have already made the transition to film; the latter employed the then-remarkable method of stop-motion animation that afforded a fine attention to detail in the facial expressions and costumes of the story’s well-dressed vermin protagonists. Anderson’s newest creation takes the fine and makes it, in a word, fantastic, offering painstakingly detailed characters and environments that move with an independent energy down to the smallest blade of grass or prickly hair atop Mr. Fox’s shapely puppet head.

    Dahl’s narrative of a conniving tree-dweller plotting his last big heist on the farms of three ornery moguls (Boggis, Bunce and Bean, “”One fat, one short, one lean””) accounts only for the second act of Anderson’s whimsical adaptation. The film begins with Fox (voiced by George Clooney, serving as a furrier version of Danny Ocean) and his lovely wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) spicing up their lives by relieving a local farmer of his poultry. After getting trapped in a cage, Felicity reveals that she’s pregnant and demands that Fox give up his life of crime. Many “”Fox-years”” later, we find the couple settling down in a brand-new tree with their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and life is dandy. It doesn’t take long, though, for Fox to fall into his old habits, risking the survival of his woodland friends and family on that last big heist.

    The story is what you’d expect from an animated family comedy: there is conflict, there is capture, there is romance and there is redemption. What really sets Anderson’s “”Fox”” apart from any stop-motion film to date is the synthesis of stirringly detailed characters and the comedic cadre of voice-actors attached to the personified critters.

    Bill Murray voices Badger, a superbly dressed litigator who runs a refugee camp for displaced animals on the side. Owen Wilson is Coach Skip, a zealous gym teacher who pits Ash and his cousin Kristofferson (voiced by Anderson’s brother Eric) against one another in the complicated affair of “”whackbat.”” Willem Dafoe flies under the radar as the sleazy, cigarette-smoking Rat, an old rival of Fox who is accompanied by a sinister Spanish guitar theme wherever he scurries.

    More impressive than all the woodland warriors combined, though, are Anderson’s humans, given chillingly realistic movements to contrast absurdly caricatured features by the same animation crew responsible for Tim Burton’s “”Corpse Bride.”” A musical number late in the movie performed by the collective employees of the Boggis, Bunce and Bean compounds showcases more personality in ninety seconds than some Disney films can muster in ninety minutes.

    While any spectator of any age bracket will undoubtedly be incapable of looking away from Anderson’s dense stop-motion universe, younger audiences will likely miss most of the humor. In true Andersonian fashion, Fox and his comrades engage in one-sided, often irrelevant conversations about art, science and existentialism, which will elicit chuckles only from Wes’ most faithful groupies.

    Despite this, “”Fantastic Mr. Fox”” is nonstop stop-motion ecstasy from start to finish, a bit elevated for its own good, but pure joy nonetheless. Get a fantastic friend to tag along and you may never want to leave the woods again.

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