Written by: Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach
Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson
Old habits die hard, especially if they define any individuals for a distinguishable amount of time. It makes any attempt to change potentially fleeting seeing as a relapse can occur with the slightest provocation. Mix in some midlife and identity crises and you get the wonderfully animated and narratively dazzling Fantastic Mr. Fox. A beautiful combination of visuals and the emotional core to bring everything together.
Having given up the thieving lifestyle for a sustainable future for his family, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) now faces a crisis with trying to do something momentous in his life. This leads him to finally move out of a hole to buy a tree and get back into the mischievous ways of his thieving past by stealing from some dangerous marks.
Based on the Roald Dahl book, having Wes Anderson take on a stop-motion animated film proved to be a beautiful marriage of his particular style and this filmmaking technique. It makes so much sense and it came to no surprise that when putting together this whimsical tale, he created something incredibly special. While narratively it fits with his live-action stories, the element of animation and turning his typically insecure characters into animals allows for it all to come together in such a satisfying way.
Applying his trade as a thief of chickens, geese, and other avian animals when younger, commitment to his partner and the promise of raising a family took Mr. Fox away from something he genuinely loved. It comes as a natural aspect of any adult where becoming responsible for a child requires some sort of sacrifice from what could be done without this restriction. Raising an offspring necessitates consistent support and supporting a family by stealing from others has far too many risk factors, which could leave Mr. Fox in some sort of animal prison or dead. Taking the job as a journalist pays the bills, but it takes away from this fox feeling like himself. A mid-life crisis leads him to getting back to his thievous ways and it brings forth much more damage than good.
The environment and world built within this film have so much texture as it matches its whimsy with the reality of being an adult. Instead of living like a normal fox within a hole, he insists on buying a tree, and the whole sequence of him purchasing one outlines what makes the film such a wondrous blend of humor. The scene shows a realtor describing what makes this tree within Mr. Fox’s price range, not the best neighborhood, and a quality price for the number being asked. It all seems so silly seeing as it’s a tree but the way it gets outfitted makes for something getting into high amounts of debt for.
With this being about animals speaking and walking like humans, Anderson makes the ingenious decision to give you jarring reminders that these characters are in fact animals. They sit down for dinner all properly made on a plate placed on a dining table but once it comes time to consume the actual food, the foxes devour it much like a raccoon with a bag of McDonald’s it found in the trash. It creates such a clash from everything we’ve seen from these characters with their proper diction and emotional discussions. Each time this return to the primal nature of these creatures arrived, it came with such a wonderful level of comedy and shows Anderson knows exactly what he’s doing with this story.
Creating a stop-motion animated film comes with a level of patience I could never fathom but the amount of detail in this story truly displays majestic skill. Each character design plays a significant part in portraying each of the characters, from Mr. Fox’s suit to Kristofferson’s (Eric Anderson) button-up shirt. It speaks to where these characters lie emotionally at any given time and goes very well with the design of each set. The ways the characters move looks completely seamless and allows for some truly thrilling sequences for when Mr. Fox begins thieving again and tries to get one over on the evil farmers.
Not enough can be said about this voice cast, which gets assembled to perfection to match the characters they get paired with. George Clooney voices Mr. Fox and uses his deep and smooth voice to elicit the cool yet insecure nature of this character to absolute fulfillment. After experiencing this feature, I could not picture anyone else voicing this character to the level Clooney reached. Jason Schwartzman, an Anderson regular, voices Mr. Fox’s son, Ash, and he completely nails the petulant behavior of this young fox. Almost channeling the work he did in Rushmore, Schartzman toes the line between being a childish level of selfishness we can all understand and being purely annoying for most of the runtime. All other voice actors contribute in such fun ways, which includes Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, and many others.
Fantastic Mr. Fox has so many moments to enjoy employing the comedic sensibilities of Wes Anderson. Co-writing the script with Noah Baumbach, this film combines two of my personal favorite writer/directors and their collaboration works wonders. Aspects of this world simply just get explained as a matter of fact and the confidence in which it gets defined allows for the audience to just run with it. Take, for example, the sport of Whack-Bat. Mostly similar to Cricket but weirdly much more complicated, the rules get explained with so much quickness and surety that it doesn’t matter if we fully grasp it. The most important aspect comes from what it means to the characters, particularly Ash, who has his struggles of living up to being like his father. All of it just works so well and it becomes difficult to find faults.
As a narrative, Fantastic Mr. Fox falls into the category of animated films targeted towards adults with its themes and the moments where the story gets a bit gruesome. It walks the balance of finding entertaining moments for the young ones as well, which makes it a truly perfect animated feature for all to enjoy. It employs the very particular style of Wes Anderson and demonstrates what this incredible director can do when controlling every minute aspect of a story. Truly a marvel to experience and one I can continually watch on repeat.