Although I had heard about this movie some time after it was originally released, my interest in it didn’t come until much later when my mom rented it through DVD Netflix. Of course, by that time I had truly kindled my interest in making animated fare—which, yes, includes a slate of projects centered around anthropomorphic animals. And while all of those productions are intended to be traditionally animated, the idea of a feature-length stop-motion animated film is even rarer these days than hand-drawn fare. In fact, this 2009 movie may be the most recent such production on a major scale. Ironically, it doesn’t ever play on the fact that it was released by 20th Century Fox (even if its partial namesake wasn’t ever an anthro), although this may have been because the studio didn’t produce the project themselves and instead acquired it from a folding Revolution Studios.
The underlying story behind the movie was written by Roald Dahl (also known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Matilda, all of which have also been adapted for the big screen). And as is the case for all but one (Charlie), I have not read the eponymous book.
The titular Mr. Fox, a thief-turned-newspaper columnist, decides to go back to his wild days one more time and plans to steal various meats and other wares from three wealthy human farmers with the wonderfully alliterative names of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, who are apparently so notorious they have an entire schoolyard limerick written about them. The farmers, obviously not amused, work together in turn to drive out and destroy Mr. Fox and his entire family.
Director Wes Anderson considers Dahl one of his heroes, and it shows in the way he so brilliantly translates the source material to the screen. As co-screenwriter, however, he also added new bookends to the original story. While this often means a complete ruination of the work from whence it came, here the additions seem very much like natural extensions of the novel and give the characters a kind of added dimension that was probably not present beforehand. Anderson similarly brings his unique brand of wit to the screenplay and characters, which are well-portrayed by an all-star voice cast includes George Clooney as Mr. Fox, Meryl Streep as his wife, Jason Schwartzman as their son Ash, and Bill Murray as Fox’s lawyer, Clive Badger.
The animation of FANTASTIC MR. FOX, led by animation director Mark Gustafson, is relatively fluid for an animated film—much less a stop-motion one. Working alongside cinematographer Tristan Oliver and production designer Nelson Lowry, Anderson’s approach to the production as if it were a live-action shoot provides an unprecedented level of ingenuity for the medium as well as a series of breathtaking scenes throughout the film. Finally, a quirky soundtrack, anchored by Alexandre Desplat’s score and a wide variety of songs ranging from Burl Ives to the Beach Boys, provides an eccentric yet well-fitting accompaniment to the proceedings.
FANTASTIC MR. FOX is certainly not like most animated movies out there, but that’s what makes it so interesting and, really, uniquely brilliant.
One more note: Although it ultimately lost most of the awards it was nominated for (including two Oscars®) to Disney•Pixar’s UP, Anderson received a Special Filmmaking Achievement award from the National Board of Review. His character in the film, Stan Weasel, was actually animated accepting this award in a rather unique video.