Who’s In It: The voices of George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jarvis Cocker, Owen Wilson, Wallace Wodolarsky, Eric Anderson
The Basics: Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is an upwardly mobile newspaper columnist who moves his wife (Meryl Streep) and their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) out of a fox hole into a more affluent tree home, against the advice of his lawyer, Badger (Bill Murray). In his new digs, Fox finds the produce and poultry-laden warehouses of local farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (all voiced by Michael Gambon) to be too much of a temptation for his innate foxy impulses and jeopardizes the lives of his family and community by stealing the farmers’ food, learning important life lessons along the way.
What’s The Deal: You know Fantastic Mr. Fox is a Wes Anderson movie because A) it’s meticulously detailed and B) somehow, a story about animals foraging for food has been transformed into a parable about sons and fathers and rich people problems. But that’s OK, because Anderson’s created a wondrous world with gorgeous details and lovable, complex characters based on Roald Dahl’s original book. Complemented by a delightful score by Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox is also a deceptively layered treatment of familiar Anderson terrain: self-destructive dreamers, familial bonds, the consequences of unbridled genius, and how all three intertwine.
Animation Like You’ve Never Seen: With its slightly stilted stop motion and old-timey production design, Mr. Fox is a peculiarly beautiful work of animation. Characters are lit and blocked as in live action films, yielding a sense that we’re watching animal dolls come to life. The way the wind ruffles Mr. Fox’s fur or the mere fact that shadows fall in the realm of the film as they do in real life may seem minor, but lend the film an important weight.
What’s The Subtext? Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach (who also co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) may have scripted a story that kids can follow, but they make it clear there’s more to be found beneath the surface. Characters refer outright to predictable endings, existential questions, and the hazards of weak writing, prodding the viewer to notice the more sophisticated messages embedded within what might appear to some as a children’s movie. (Or, as one character asks another during a conversation, “What’s the subtext?”)
Those Evil Brits: Anderson infamously spent the duration of production on Mr. Fox working remotely from Paris, sending missives and his own video storyboards to London animators via email. But while every backstage drama should be taken with a grain of salt (and shouldn’t have a bearing on one’s reading of a film), what does it mean that the evil villains in the film have English accents while every good guy is American? Add to that the fact that the original novel was written by beloved British author Roald Dahl, and we understand why Brits have given Mr. Fox a cool reception.