Fantastic Mr. Fox really is fantastic

Wes Anderson’s latest film provides eye candy rich with substance.

PHOTO COURTESY 20TH CENTURY FOX

PHOTO COURTESY 20TH CENTURY FOX

Tony Libera

âÄúFantastic Mr. FoxâÄù DIRECTED BY: Wes Anderson STARRING: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman. RATED: PG SHOWING: Area Theaters Critics tend to use a lot of fun little words to wrap their minds around Wes Anderson âÄî quirky, oddball, hipster âÄî but donâÄôt get it twisted; his eccentricity isn’t the primary reason that he’s one of the most engaging filmmakers of the 21st century. Certainly his knack for visual flair, unabashed love of rock âÄònâÄô roll classics and esoteric dialogue has endeared him to more than a few, but itâÄôs his skill with characterization and familial interplay that have established Anderson as a master craftsman. Though his latest, âÄúFantastic Mr. Fox,âÄù is marketed as a childrenâÄôs film, Anderson saturates the world of his characters with enough comedy, intelligence and existential melancholia to appeal to moviegoers of all ages and persuasions. AndersonâÄôs version of the Roald Dahl tale begins with the titular character (George Clooney) and his wife (Meryl Streep) discussing their future after being trapped during a chicken coop raid. Mrs. Fox tells her husband that sheâÄôs pregnant and, if they somehow escape their cage, he must give up his thievery. We meet up with the pair two years later (12 fox years) and learn that Mr. Fox has become a columnist for the newspaper, Mrs. Fox is a painter and the two play parent to an awkward cub named Ash (Jason Schwartzman). For one brief moment, their domesticity seems sunny, tranquil, Rockwellian; but Mr. Fox has an itch to steal some chickens that he canâÄôt help but scratch. He may be a fox, but the protagonistâÄôs urges are less animalistic than they appear. Anderson brings his signature brand of existential funk to Mr. Fox, imbuing the all-too-familiar humanity of someone experiencing a midlife crisis âÄî but thereâÄôs a decidedly different tone from his past films. From the Tenenbaum family to Steve Zissou, AndersonâÄôs characters have always wanted to be fantastic âÄî and perhaps, for a time, they were âÄî but at some point they were crippled by the actions of others and by their own inadequacies. Mr. Fox is different; he senses his own unhappiness and resolves to do something about it, earning his superlative title. AndersonâÄôs thematic attention hasnâÄôt changed and neither has his visual style. As always, his direction provides some breathtaking shots âÄì a result of sublime framing, perfectly coordinated layouts, and a neuroticâÄôs attention to detail. The only difference this time around is that âÄúFantastic Mr. FoxâÄù is an animated feature. Thankfully, Anderson shunned the overbearing and conventional use of CGI and instead created his intricate world in a stop-motion tradition that breeds both nostalgia and beauty. The result is his most visually dazzling film yet. Rounding out this all-around impressive film is a star-studded cast featuring both Anderson regulars and a few new players. George ClooneyâÄôs performance is as fantastic as the fox he plays; heâÄôs funny, insecure, triumphant and, it has to be said, kind of sexy. Meryl Streep is equally impressive as his female counterpart, solidifying AndersonâÄôs recurring statement that thereâÄôs always a great vixen behind a great fox. Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray also deserve their props for providing expert somberness and hilarity, but the most surprising performance comes from WesâÄôs brother Eric Chase Anderson. HeâÄôs understated as Mr. FoxâÄôs hyper-adept nephew Kristofferson, playing into WesâÄôs vision with charm and a subtle grace. âÄúFantastic Mr. FoxâÄù shows Wes Anderson returning to peak form. While some fans may have felt let down by âÄúThe Darjeeling Limited,âÄù there is no doubt that this latest effort will be received with high praise. 4.5/5 Stars