Fantastic Mr. Fox

Maybe it's a coincidence that two gifted young filmmakers — Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze (both born in 1969) — have latched on to kid lit and puppets for inspiration in the same year — first Jonze with Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, and now Anderson, having artful fun with Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox and giving the film a palpable texture (fur and corduroy, who knew?) by utilizing stop-motion animation with the skill of a master. (Regarding the controversy that Anderson gave instructions from Paris while the puppets were being moved in painstaking increments on a London set: So what? Anyone who's seen Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited knows this movie has Anderson in its DNA.) And the decision to record the voice actors together on a farm in Connecticut instead of in isolated sound booths provides the film with a lively aural kick.

In his playful fashion, Anderson stays true to the Dahl plot about Mr. Fox (voiced with debonair charm by George Clooney), a dysfunctional father to rival those in any Anderson movie. After years as a smoothie thief, Mr. Fox has promised Mrs. Fox (a deliciously sly Meryl Streep) he'll take a job and settle down as daddy to Ash (Jason Schwartzman scaling humor and heartbreak with vocal dexterity). A dozen fox years later, our hero is tired of writing a newspaper column no one reads. With a prod from opossum Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) and lawyer Badger (Anderson regular Bill Murray), Mr. Fox embarks on one last caper as revenge against farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean, who aim to drill down into the Fox lair and go for the kill. Hell, they even shot off Mr. Fox's tail. Is it an accident that the villains, led by Michael Gambon's Bean, are Brits and the heroes are voiced by Americans? You be the judge. My grudge is against homegrown parents who think their kids can't handle anything with sophisticated wit or a layer of darkness. Fantastic Mr. Fox, written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach with uncommon nuance and buoyed by a score that makes room for the Beach Boys and Jarvis Cocker, is an adventure in pure imagination that plays to the smart kid in all of us.

From The Archives Issue 318: May 29, 1980