Mr. Fox (Clooney), a fox with a high opinion of himself, is struggling to set aside his chicken-stealing habits and settle down to family life. When a trio of wicked farmers relocate to his woods, the temptation to show how fantastic he is proves too great...
In this era of photo-realising the fantastic and precision-made stop-motion prettyscapes, it is oddly gratifying to find that Wes Anderson, in his first sole venture into an animated universe, is having none of it. He is still busy ploughing his wry indie groove, only now in the guise of miniature foxes of rubbery complexion.
Of course, Anderson has dabbled in quirky animation before — those deep-sea sideshows in The Life Aquatic hinting atan appreciation for puppetry, and there’sa stop-motion patina to his real-world explorations, films so laidback they might have been coached into fruition frame-by-frame. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the director has ditched human actors for pipe-cleaner animals, nor that the result is so idiosyncratic, charming and funny.
This unforeseen fusion of spiky English fabulist and effacing Texan moviemaker makes sense. Despite remaining Roald Dahl’s caustic morality tale about a conceited fox, it is also demonstrably one of Anderson’s mild-mannered odes to crackpot families of neurotics and nitwits. Pompous fathers, dysfunctional offspring, and bumbling neighbours: the whole gamut of oddballs come rendered in a lo-fi stop-motion barely a twitch or two above the work of Clangers maestro Oliver Postgate from ’70s British telly. Despite the contradiction of American voices, such Bagpussian familiarity grants it a teashop Englishness that fits Dahl right on the nose. From there on, it’s liberally adapted into The Royal Tenenbaums in fur.
The story starts and finishes with Mr. Fox’s inability to settle down as he — roping in his putz of a best friend, Rickity (an opossum) — plots a series of foolish raids on nearby farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Dahl’s sing-song description, “one short, one fat, one lean”, is visualised with wicked panache). The upshot, amongst many, is that Mr. Fox will lose his tail (a real dent in his fox-about-town image) and the local animal community will lose its community. Meanwhile, and here comes the Wes stuff, he also can’t connect with his under-sized, self-absorbed cub, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), a situation exacerbated by the arrival of Ash’s cousin, a top-fox at sport, vixens and, so it proves, chicken robbery.
Such storytelling delight comes not in the exactitude of the animation, although it has a certain psychedelic dazzle, but how cunningly it conveys character, humour and, like Nick Park’s screwy Yorkshire, a deviant version of modern life.
Thanks to the guile of the director and his animators, the whole see-the-joins short-hand possesses a splendour of tiny nuance, like the creepy glow of cigarettes clamped in Bean’s (Michael Gambon) jaw, or a witty trick with eyeballs switching from black beads to white marbles daubed with baffled spirals. There’s a sublime marriage here of script and technique. George Clooney’s Mr. Fox is smarmy both in the actor’s unhurried delivery of his mid-life crisis and in silky texture, while Meryl Streep’s Mrs. Fox has a softness both in her sighing over a luckless marriage and in her orangeade-coloured fur that stands on end when her husband’s braggadocio leads this menagerie of Wind In The Willows drop-outs into a succession of jams. It may be slight as a feather (a quality Anderson holds dear) and vexing for Dahl purists, but for a film so outwardly bonkers, it works like a dream.
Genuinely original: a silly, hilarious and oddly profound adaptation for adult-sized children