Susan Granger’s review of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (20th Century-Fox)
Idiosyncratic filmmaker Wes Anderson has created a droll, delightful, stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s best-selling children’s book about an audacious, stubbornly determined fox who refuses to stop stealing chickens from infuriated farmers Boggs, Bunce and Bean, who are determined to capture him – at any cost.
“I’m a wild animal,” suave, corduroy-clad Mr. Fox explains to conservative Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), their angst-ridden teenage son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), along with visiting cousin Kristofferson, (Eric Anderson), Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) and lawyer Badger (Bill Murray) who join them in flight from the human predators.
Previously used in the “Wallace and Gromit” films, Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride,” and Henry Selick’s “Coraline,” and tracing its roots back to the original “King Kong” and the work of Ray Harryhausen, stop-motion animation is an old-fashioned, painstaking process in which the figures – furry animals – are placed in an eye-catching, bucolic setting, moved infinitesimally by hand, and photographed, frame-by-frame, in each new pose; the succession of these poses, edited together, simulates motion. While it’s no secret that Wes Anderson (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”) supervised animation director Mark Gustafson, production designer Nelson Lowry and cinematographer Tristan Oliver in London from a virtual command center in his Paris apartment, utilizing a variety of data-delivery systems, he did go ‘on location’ to a creaky, old Connecticut farm for a voice-over session with Clooney, Streep and Murray in 2007, before the animation process began.
Working with co-writer Noah Baumbach, Anderson enlarged Dahl’s slim volume by intensifying the characters’ distinctive personalities, rivalry conflicts and dysfunctional relationships, as well as adding new characters, diverging into some repetition and amplifying the ending. While Dahl’s darkly humorous story concludes with Mr. Fox, his family and friends taking refuge in underground burrows, surviving on food pilfered from the mean farmers’ own storehouses, Anderson wryly depicts the animals as thriving in their lair, celebrating their bountiful pleasures in an anachronistic, somewhat surreal sanctuary. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a sly, smartly paced 9, perhaps appealing even more to an older audience than a younger one.