There’s no set barometer for these things, but usually it’s about halfway through a really good movie is when I find myself thinking “I love this film”. Wes Anderson’s latest film, his first PG rated and (stop-motion) animated one, only needed a half hour to get me thinking it. And by the time the credits rolled I felt like I had watched my favorite animated film ever.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) lives with his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) and awkward son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) in their home underground. He was a thief for a number of years, stealing chickens along with other items from farmers until he swore to Felicity that he would give it up. So he became a columnist. But he isn’t happy living underground so he decides the family, along with Ash’s cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) who is staying with the family because his father is ill (and who is smart, athletic, good looking - everything that Ash isn’t), should purchase a home in a tree. Fox ignores the warnings of his lawyer Badger (Bill Murray) who tells him that it’s a bad idea to live near the three evil farmers Boggis, Bean, and Bunce. But Fox has a master plan: He has his friend Kylie Opossum (Wallace Wolodarsky) help him steal from all three farmers. But soon enough the famous farmers realize what is going on and set out to put an end to Fox, his family (featuring a mini-feud between Ash and easy going Kristofferson), and his friends once and for all.
What makes Fantastic Mr. Fox so fantastic? The stop-motion animation utilizes a number of puppets while still looking much more slick and realistic then, say, Nightmare Before Christmas. The Fox family in particular look amazing but all of the animal characters look great. The humans are portrayed as odd looking, particularly our three farmers, which fits the ‘wild animals’ theme.
The voiceover talent for the film is second to none. George Clooney is cagey, witty, and sly as Mr. Fox, a character who admits he wants to be loved and appreciated even if it means showing off or doing dumb things. Meryl Streep isn’t given a large number of lines but she brings an emotional core to the film that seperates it from your typical ‘cartoon’. A line she delivers in particular about her marriage is heavy stuff for a light family film.
The rest of the cast is compromised primarily of Anderson regulars: Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Willem DaFoe. All do a good job with their roles even though Wilson’s probably could have been cut and not changed the film. Schwartzman shines as Ash who is just different. And he gets jealous easily. But Schwartzman keeps him likeable. Two other Anderson regulars who aren’t actually regular actors provide the voices for Kristofferson and Opossum. Eric Anderson is Wes’s brother and does a good job as the humble Kristofferson and former Simpsons writer and Anderson friend Wally Wolodarsky is hilarious as Opossum.
Based on a novel by the famous children’s author Ronald Dahl, the screenplay by Anderson and Noah Baumbach is filled with great running gags like Opossum’s stare and the use of the word ‘cuss’. And the reaction by Bean to a song by Jarvis Cocker (playing a character named Petey) is classic. The film uses a playground song about Boggis, Bean, and Bunce in a number of different ways and it never grows tiresome as it becomes a mantra of sorts.
In short the soundtrack is catchy (even featuring my favorite Beach Boys song!), the writing is sharp, the voice acting is great, and the story is just incredibly fun. This was just a cussing great movie.