Mr Fox (George Clooney), a retired thief, decides he wants a better life for himself and his family, heís getting older every day, and heís tired of living in a hole. So Mr Fox, his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep), and his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), all move together into a better house, ostensibly for no other reason than to improve their quality of life. However, Mr Fox has an ulterior motive for moving into this particular property - it is ideally situated for him to secretly return to a life of crime. Itís not hard to see why Roald Dahlís story appealed to Wes Anderson, a director known for tackling dysfunctional families and madcap adventure in films like Bottle Rocket and The Life Aquatic. But Fantastic Mr Fox isnít simply a story bizarrely well-suited to Wes Anderson, it is also a story with which he is intensely familiar Ė itís the first book he ever owned, introducing him to the weird and wonderful world of Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and many, many others.
In the film, as in the book, Mr Fox targets Boggis, Bunce and Bean, three prosperous evil farmers who set out to kill Fox and any other woodland creature that gets in their way once they discover their storehouses are being periodically ransacked. Mr Fox has inadvertently put everyone he knows in harms way, and has to try his best to protect them. Anderson has expanded the story, added some characters and removed others, changed the ending and more, but the Dahlian spirit is always present in the story, even if it does bear all the hallmarks of an Anderson film. The voice work in the movie is wonderful, Clooney, Streep and Schwartzman anchoring the film emotionally, whilst others such as Wally Wolodarsky and Willem Dafoe provide truly memorable characters. The film is ridiculously fun from start to finish, and that's what makes it work as a kids' film, because it otherwise operates on the level of an adult drama, complete with cussing.
The first thing you notice about the film is how Anderson has carried over the distinctive visual style of his live-action features to the stop-motion animated medium, and how remarkably well it works. The film opens with a short but very entertaining side-scrolling mini-heist, the first of the directorís storytelling quirks that shows the audience how unlike other animated movies Fantastic Mr Fox is. Itís unusual, if not unheard of, for an animated film to have its personality defined as much by blocking and camera movement as by character design and animation style, and that novelty alone would be enough to distinguish the film.
Anderson not only exploits the limitations of stop-motion, going so far as to deliberately avoid the use of modern stop-motion techniques, he celebrates them. Fur bristles uncontrollably, movements arenít fluid, and everything feels handmade. Part of the fun of watching a stop-motion film is marvelling at the artistry, sometimes you want to catch a glimpse of a fingerprint on Wallace or Gromit, and Anderson understands that. His choices validate those film lovers who argue that sometimes itís better to do things the old-fashioned way. Itís as if Anderson is saying they donít make íem like they used to, and they could at least tryÖ