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Fantastic Mr. Fox

Crossing Boundaries and Generations

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Wes Anderson's films have always existed in a slightly altered version of our world. The characters are obviously human and they exist in places we recognize, but something is always a bit off. So it's no surprise that he's similarly drawn to the world of Roald Dahl. Dahl's vision is surely more fantastical than Anderson's, but they both posses an innately dry sense of humor and a similar whimsical way of viewing the world.

While Dahl created children's stories that adults could admire, Anderson creates a film for adults and children alike. It's with these sensibilities that Anderson is able to not only stay true to Dahl's original version of Fantastic Mr. Fox, but also create a masterpiece that is undeniably his own.

Anderson's decision to create a stop-motion film instead of straight animation is a testament to the fact that he understands the story he's telling and how he wants it to be told. Stop-motion allows the characters to actually exist as puppets, creating a sense of reality that is offset by anthropomorphic animals. It also gives it an inherently retro feeling that is now the Wes Anderson trademark. Whether the story actually exists in the 1970s is erroneous as it adds to a faint feeling of nostalgia for a time lost.

On the surface, the tale of Mr. Fox is a simple one, but underneath it's a fairly complex mediation on the ideas of family, community and the nature of being. By nature, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) kills animals. It's what he's meant to do. But after he's caged stealing chickens with his wife, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), she confides she's pregnant and he can't continue with this risky way of life if he's to have a family.

Years have passed — decades in fox years — and Mr. Fox is now the patriarch of a poor, but seemingly happy family. However, they're anything but content. Mr. Fox is an unread newspaper columnist and his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is in the middle of adolescent frustration and rebellion. Attempting to up their social status, and thus happiness, Mr. Fox convinces his realtor Badger (Bill Murray) to purchase a beautiful tree house near three of the biggest, and most frightening, farms. It's these farms that hold the most interest for Mr. Fox, though, and he plans one last mission. It's this through this last mission that Mr. Fox causes the downfall not only of himself and his family, but also of the entire community. The three farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, soon wage war against Fox and his associates as they struggle to survive.

Through Dahl's tale of self-discovery Anderson utilizes his mastery of subtle humor coupled with beautiful imagery to create a film that crosses boundaries and generations. Of course, no Wes Anderson film would be complete without some classic rock and The Beach Boys' "Heroes and Villains" and "I Get Around" set the tone for a film that's as fun as it is a serious work of art.

The cast is also superb, especially Clooney and Schwartzman, who forego the usual grandiose voice gestures present in cartoons and provide a subtle, deadpan delivery that supports Anderson's vision. Schwartzman doesn't attempt to disguise his blatantly adult voice, creating an irony in Ash's journey from childhood to manhood. It's these minor details that Anderson is a master of, and it’s what makes a good film a great one.

Although Wes Anderson has created a truly divisive career of praise and criticism Fantastic Mr. Fox proves that, love him or hate him, he’s a true commander of the screen.