(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Wes Anderson brings us a thoroughly delightful animated film. With wit, grace, and charm we get the story of a fox trying to evade three nasty farmers who are trying to kill him. But the animal characters are written very human and at the same time very funny, and they are made real by an all-star cast of familiar voices. Add a bunch of clever film references and we get a lot of film for the price of a ticket. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

I cannot say that I am terribly fond of the Wes Anderson comedies, films he both writes and directs. His quirky and disjointed sense of humor is selective in its appeal and it rarely selects me. BOTTLE ROCKET and THE ROYAL TANENBAUMS have their moments, but RUSHMORE, THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, and THE DARJEELING LIMITED just seem disjointed and misaimed. His characters do not seem to be real people, but more writing exercises. I expected little from his animated film FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Ironically animated film is just the sub-medium to make his writing sing. Perhaps real people do not talk in the Anderson style, but animated animals are not real people and you expect them to be a little quirky. It works well.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX is a film in which even the errors work in its favor. For example, the animation seems to be done in stop-motion with fur-covered models. In KING KONG the models were covered with real fur and it showed in the animation. As the models were repositioned the fur was accidentally re-arranged. That was considered a mistake for KING KONG, which was supposed to be happening in the real world. The foxes and other animals in FANTASTIC MR. FOX do not have seemed real, perhaps. Instead they come off a little like charming dolls, and that works for the film better than it would have if they were photo-realistic. This is a world that is about at the same level of reality as THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS or perhaps Pogo. Further Anderson's film is made more winning by taking a step backward in technology by being three- dimensional models built on armatures. The characters have an organic feel to them; they seem tactile or even pettable. They are not made up of vectors in a computer; they feel like there is something touchable and solid in front of the viewer. I will not talk down Pixar, the animation studio that makes so many good films, but FANTASTIC MR. FOX shows the tactile feel that is missing in their films. It is the same phenomenon that makes the fans prefer Ray Harryhausen's creations to purely CGI effects.

Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) are happily married. Okay, hold it right there. This is not a film about young 20-somethings. In fox years they are probably 40- somethings. This is a film aimed at adults as much as it is at children and the whole spectrum should find this film rewarding. It is not clear that younger viewers will get some of the allusions like the opening with "The Ballad of Davy Crocket" or a sound effect borrowed from THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT or a line borrowed from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. But everybody should appreciate the characters. And the film has its share of serious issues and of laugh out loud moments.

Mr. Fox is (incredibly) suave like a George Clooney or a Cary Grant. Mrs. Fox is warm and wise and even when the couple has a falling out, you can feel the love these characters have for each other. Perhaps it required good actors to bring that off with foxes. I frequently ask why have highly paid stars doing voices in animated films when the producers could be giving talented unknowns a shot. But this film needed good actors, and the acting talent was there in Clooney and Streep and about eight other familiar actors. I will not list the lot of them because that would spoil the fun of reading the closing credits.

Okay, the plot. This is an adaptation of the book by Roald Dahl. It is the story of a turf war between Mr. Fox and three nasty farmers who are trying to rid their land of the chicken-stealing fox. Mr. Fox is actually no longer a chicken-thief and now writes for a newspaper, but the farmers have long memories and do not forgive. The story is a battle of wits between the three farmers and Mr. Fox. Frankly the story could have been stronger, but the viewer cares more for the characters and style more than the plot.

"Wit, grace, and charm" is a lyric for one of the songs in the film, but it could have been describing the film itself. Told with its breezy style, this could be the most charming film of the year. I rate FANTASTIC MR. FOX a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper