“The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, based on a novel by Roald Dahl, is more than fantastic, it’s incandescent.
The story works on a bunch of levels, the characters are suitably complex and interesting, the dialogue’s unbelievably sharp, and it’s done in stop animation (the same way they make Gumby: move the models, snap a shot, move the models, snap a shot), so it flows and the details are scary-good: fur glistens, individual hairs move independent of each other. You want to touch everything, even if you’re claustrophobic and it means crawling underground into various holes and sewers.
But as crisp as the production is, it’s nothing compared to the way that it embodies the suaveness of an animated Cary Grant (in the character of Mr. Fox – voice of George Clooney). He bristles, fur-wise, personality-wise, with a lighter than air, to the manor – or foxhole - born demeanor that is delicious and irresistible.
He’s as urbane as can be. He wears a fitted, double breasted pumpkin colored corduroy suit, he’s got this upper crust strut, no mean feat considering he walks upright on his hooves. He’s got this upper crust English sophistication about him that recalls, ironically, the manners exhibited at a traditional tally-ho fox hunt, except of course he is a fox (it’s so easy to forget).
He’s a writer (when he and his then-pregnant wife almost get killed stealing some poultry, he gets a real job), he was a star athlete when he was younger, he’s idolized by his wife, Mrs. Fox (voice of Meryl Streep), and he’s got a son, Ash (voice of Jason Schwartzman) who has trouble living up to his old man.
But as worldly and elegant, and comme il faut, as Mr. Fox is, he’s also, improbably, a wild animal. Just watch him eat, snarl with his lawyer, Badger (voice of Bill Murray) and sneak about at night.
And it’s his animal nature that gets him, his brood, and all the others on his food chain in big trouble. He runs afoul of the three local bigwigs, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, because, true to nature, he wants to steal their wares. And because the combined resources of the three dwarf that of Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox has to resort to some fox-canny maneuvers to save the day.
Everything about the movie is delightful. Their exceeding politeness (they mutter “cuss” all the time; soon you realize they really mean “%&#@” but are too hip to say it). The way Mr. Fox remains the epitome of cool while his world is literally crumbling around him. The fact that the story is easily comprehensible for kids and yet imparts some pretty cool lessons on how within each of us resides an inner fox.
And the enchanting ending, when they all tunnel up into a supermarket that’s closed for the weekend and begin a pagan dance to their survival and their bounty, is a tribute to how the movie combines our human and animal natures into one big pagan spree.