'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

Dir. Wes Anderson
(2009, PG, 87 min)
★ ★ ★

Fantastic Mr. Fox is like Chicken Run for hipsters. Directed and co-written by Wes Anderson, he of hyper-ironic fare like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, it takes the Roald Dahl novel and coats it with a layer of laid-back cool. It’s too glib by half, surrounding emotional or energetic scenes with ones that are so detached they don’t feel like anyone’s playing for keeps. George Clooney voices Mr. Fox with Danny Ocean’s slick nonchalance; you can hear the smirk in his dialogue.

Nevertheless, Anderson and his cast achieve much wry whimsy. Meryl Streep voices Mrs. Fox, who after an opening heist scene announces that she is pregnant. Cut to two years later (twelve in fox-years). Their pre-adolescent son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), diminutive and a bit strange, is jealous of his visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Mr. Fox, having become a newspaperman, grows restless and resumes his life of thievery, targeting three dangerous local farmers: Walter Boggis, Nathan Bunce, and Franklin Bean — the last played deliciously by Michael Gambon.

Filmed using stop-motion animation, it makes expressive use of its puppets, with closeups of faces during quiet, honest moments, in point-of-view shots where the characters address the camera. Impressive production design by Nelson Lowry produces striking scenes like one between Mr. and Mrs. Fox in a sewer enhanced by the use of a cascading waterfall in the background. The voice actors, who also include Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson, are subtly droll. But the too-cool-for-school writing makes us wish for more of the directness and sincerity of the film’s best scenes.

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