Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn’t fantastic at the box office, amassing $20 million to partly offset its $40 million production costs. But what did we expect from a quirky Wes Anderson film? The Houston-born director, who also adapted Roald Dahl’s tale to screenplay form, still has his imprint all over this, even though it’s his first foray into animated features.
In this case, he used the quaint but lovable technique called stop motion animation, which Aardman and other production companies still employ. Models are painstakingly moved a fraction of an inch at a time, just as was done on the original King Kong more than 75 years ago. In fact, Anderson deliberately kept — if not brandished — the fur-rustling effect that Kong inadvertently displayed as a byproduct when animators’ hands touched hairy models.
On screen, Dahl’s rather straightforward fairy tale acquires new life, with much owing to Anderson’s clever sense of amusingly pointed theatricality. Scenes often are set in proscenium style, as if on a theater stage, and they include such elaborate details that they evoke the maps and drawings Anderson applied to his intrepid, boyish hero in Rushmore.
The yarn unravels as a basic “save the farm” story, in which the anthropomorphic and domesticated fox family (parents, son, dinner table) — whose dad is charmingly voiced by George Clooney — needs to eat. So Mr. Fox enlists other critter allies to invade the fortresslike farms of neighboring humans and steal their goodies. Rancor and derring-do ensue.
At the least, the film is a visual feast, but it’s also witty and wily enough to be savored by adults, perhaps even more than children. And its voice cast couldn’t be better, including Rushmore vets Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, Anderson’s brother Eric and — oh yes, Meryl Streep.
Yes, Up deserved its Oscar as best animated feature. But Fantastic Mr. Fox also richly deserved its own Oscar nomination. And isn’t it grand to see the tyranny of CG — no less artificial than stop-motion, and far less warm — thwarted from time to time? Do yourself a favor and check this out.