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Movie Mom

Fantastic Mr. Fox

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor
Profanity:Humorous use of the word "cuss" in place of swear words
Alcohol/Drugs:Character smokes a cigar, alcoholic cider
Violence/Scariness:Characters in peril, violence includes guns, fights, explosions, character injured but no one seriously hurt
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters, retro gender roles
Movie Release Date:November 25, 2009
DVD Release Date:February 18, 2014

Today Criterion issues a gorgeous new Blu-Ray edition of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” with lots of great behind-the-scenes extras.  Director Wes Anderson has often seemed more interested in his films’ props and sets than the characters and stories. His last movie’s most memorable character was a set of luggage (The Darjeeling Limited). The previous one’s most memorable image was a cutaway that turned a sea-going vessel into a sort of doll’s house (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). And so perhaps it is not surprising that his liveliest and most appealing movie is “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a story told through stop-motion animation, every shot filled with precise and intricate detail. This is movie-making as Cornell Box.

The effect might be suffocating but for Anderson’s superbly chosen collaborators. While his previous films have been based on original material, this time he uses a beloved book by one of the foremost children’s book authors of the late 20th century, Road Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory James and the Giant Peach). And as voice talent, he has George Clooney and Meryl Streep, whose smooth, subtle performances lend emotional grounding to balance Anderson’s clever but claustrophobic tendencies.

It’s a Peter Rabbit-style story, with the title character in a battle with three farmers: “Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, one fat, one short, one lean,” according to a taunting children’s song. Fox (Clooney) agreed to stop stealing from the farmers when Mrs. Fox (Streep) became pregnant and has settled into a foxy middle-class life, working as a newspaper columnist. But he feels the call of the wild — and the call of the farmers’ plump chickens, apple cider, and geese. He starts stealing again, bringing down the wrath of the farmers on the whole animal kingdom. It is up to Fox to find a way to save them all.

The theme of the call of the wild comes up several times as the story shifts back and forth between ultra-civilization (Fox wears a shirt and tie) and the animal instincts of the non-human characters. The combination of the very familiar (Fox’s son Ash feels neglected, especially after his more talented and cool cousin comes to stay), the very cerebral (the “Oceans 11″-style heist plans), and the strangely feral (watch the way Fox eats) keeps the story as intriguing as the tiny props and costumes and the odd, stiff movements of the stop-motion figures. Unlike plasticine-based stop-motion (“Coraline,” “Wallace and Gromit”), the high-touch textures of the figures make them seem like toys come to life.

The screen is filled with enticing details, but it is the performances that keep us connected to what is going on. The script is filled with arcane non sequiturs but the warmth of those voices, with able support from Anderson’s brother Eric and regulars Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson, keep us in the story. And that really is fantastic.

  • Keith Demko

    I’m so glad to her this one didn’t disappoint … I’ve managed to wring a little joy out of moments of “The Life Aquatic,” but “Darjeeling Limited” was just thoroughly boring (and that was a great and very accurate line about the luggage)

  • Chris

    I am very excited for this movie but I must say you have anderson’s past movies all wrong. From Bottle Rocket to the Darjeeling Limited all of his films are character driven, and it saddens me that people can find such pieces of art boring. Anderson knows how to use his sets and props and has a gift of making them almost a character, but this is certainly not a negative.

  • Heather

    Hey Nell, you are usually my first resource on kid’s films but I was really disappointed with this one and I usually like Wes Anderson. I just found Mr. Fox pretty unlikable as a character. Also, I am very surprised you missed the huge amounts of alcohol in this film. They make multiple comments about the cider factory being “alcoholic” cider.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Heather. I did mention the drinking in the “parents should know” section but have added it to the bullet points as well. And I had recommended it for 4th grade and up, but have added s suggestion that it will be of most interest to teens and adults. I’m sorry you were disappointed, but glad you took the time to add your comments, which will be of great help to parents looking for guidance. Many thanks, and I’ll try to do better next time.

  • Alicia

    Hi, Nell (hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!) – I wasn’t planning to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox” but have reconsidered since hearing from you and others that it was good, and also because it is directed by Wes Anderson.
    I agree with your criticisms of Anderson’s previous movies, especially “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Express”. I often think that many good directors like Anderson would benefit greatly from filming someone else’s stories and scripts.
    The “auteur” theory has done a lot of damage in that respect, I believe. Hitchcock, regarded as the supreme “auteur” was usually filming someone else’s script (often, with his wife Alma playing a role). What would “Rear Window” have been without Cornell Woolrich? Or “North by Northwest” without Ernest Lehman? I think directors such as Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino could benefit greatly from Hitchcock’s example.

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