Fantastic Mr. Fox

4 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: February 3, 2010
Light-weight Animal Farm amuses and entertains

Director/writer Wes Anderson’s adaptation (with an assist from Noah Baumbach on the screenplay) of Roald Dahl’s, er, tale, of a naturally-thieving fox who tries to go straight is a visual delight that doesn’t dig too deep into the allegorical subtext that made George Orwell’s Animal Farm such a brilliant piece of fiction.

But why should it? Films have a right to be fun too. Or as the prolific writer said himself, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

With a crackerjack covey of voices (including George Clooney in the title role, Meryl Streep as his long-suffering, ever-pregnant wife, Jason Schwartzman playing their insecure son, Ash, his cousin Kristofferson coming to inventive life via Eric Anderson’s excellent tone and timing, Bill Murray excelling as Badger and Willem Dafoe stealing every scene as the rascally Rat) and an army of animators, puppeteers, musicians (engagingly led by composer/conductor Alexander Desplat), sound designers and digital wizards (all under the creative eye of production designer Nelson Lowry), there’s nary a dull frame in the lot. (Deft touches such as a Clint Eastwood spaghetti-western whistle and a “Little Theatre” poster add extra colour and sense of fun to the mix.)

Cinematographer Tristan Oliver and supervising editor Andrew Weisblum do yeoman’s service bringing the storyline of the reformed fox moving out of his old, literal digs into an upscale Walt Whitman tree that, not coincidentally, affords the wily journalist (one can’t get more reformed than abandoning incessant pilfering for a life of writing columns that no one reads!) a daily view of farmers Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce and Bean (Michael Gambon). Before you can say “off the wagon,” Mr. Fox, his nephew and the leafy condo’s superintendent, Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) are surreptiously filling the family larder with the spoils of their nocturnal expeditions.

Not surprisingly, the humans band together to track down their profit-killing, furry neighbours, but, in the early going, have to settle for a tie. The Fox clan goes through some problems of its own as the two cousins vie for acceptance and mom tries to lay down civil law.

To add spice to the adventure, “Petey’s Song” is a timely relief to the animal drama (done to a turn by co-writer Jarvis Cooker) and the closing dance is not dissimilar to the final moments of countless comic operas. It’s wonderful treat for the entire family without subtle moralizing, tiresome preaching or fodder for nightmares. That in itself is truly fantastic. JWR

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