With the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman; Directed by Wes Anderson; Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor. 87 minutes.
This reviewer has a confession: he lacks the genetic component that so many of his colleagues have that causes them to praise the vacuous, pretentious and annoying films of Wes Anderson. Where they swoon over “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” this reviewer sees only empty posturing by characters whose chief attribute is that they are members of dysfunctional families. Now Anderson has inflicted himself on the animated film, and the swooning has begun anew. It doesn’t make FANTASTIC MR. FOX any better.
Based on a story by Roald Dahl, the film follows the misadventures of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), who wants to get out of a hole in the ground and live in a tree, but just can’t help himself from stealing from the local farmers. He promises to go straight, but the three biggest farmers have such juicy chickens and ducks and turkeys. He’s promised Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) that he will be more responsible, but when his daring raids continue, the farmers declare war not just on him but on all the animals who live in and around the tree.
The film is frustrating in several ways. First, Anderson has chosen to do this in stop motion animation which means there were models of the various characters which had to be moved a bit at a time as they were filmed frame by frame. It’s a painstaking process which Anderson apparently felt he could short circuit by offering many shots that are simply close ups of the characters. Therein lies the problem.
These are furry creatures. Every time they are ever so slightly adjusted the adjuster can’t help but touch the fur. What we see is the fur moving, seemingly of its own free will. This proves to be very distracting. Apparently if you have the Wes Anderson fandom gene, you don’t notice this or else you come not to care.
Second, while we expect weirdness and even scariness from Dahl – whose children’s books include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Witches,” and “Matilda” – showing Mr. Fox with a dead chicken in his jaws is a bit disconcerting. Later he has to deal with his tail being shot off and, in the apparent comic highlight of the film, outwit a rabid dog. This is not a dog with a faceful of whipped cream mistaken for rabies but one who is actually rabid. Animal amputation and rabies seem odd topics for a children’s film.
Finally there is the general nature of the characters who whine and lie and cajole, since they are, after all, characters in a Wes Anderson movie. This is the director who shoulders the blames for boosting the careers of performers like Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson, both of whom provide voices here. To those of us immune to Anderson’s films, that’s indictment enough.
Those who profess to like his films may find the same charms in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Let’s hope the cure comes soon.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.