The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Jacqueline Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Fantastic Mr. Fox

If wild animals wearing clothes in urbane settings and spouting witticisms are your thing, if old-fashioned stop-motion animation that includes reaction shots within its subversive, smart-alecky dialogue turn you on – are you in for a treat!

Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) has come over to the animal side, adapting the titular 1970 Roald Dahl children’s story onto an eccentric tale of family dynamics and barnyard economics.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney, voice) writes a newspaper column and has given up his natural foxy ways (no more raiding chicken farms after a near-death experience two years earlier, that’s twelve fox years, by the way). He, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep, voice) and sullen, caped son, Ash, (Jason Schwartzman, voice) live in – what else – a fox hole that Mr. Fox tires of, moving the family into a tree top simply because it’s an unusual thing to do. That’s the kind of creature Mr. Fox is.

Still bored, Mr. Fox plots one more major caper involving the three biggest farms, Boggis, Bunce and Bean in the area for old time’s sake and the glory of being considered the smartest, most athletic animal around. The farms offer chicken, turkey and cider, real fox loot. Advice by family lawyer Badger (Bill Murray, voice) goes unheeded. Mr. Fox will have an adventure.

To complicate matters, Mr. Fox’s golden nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson, voice) visits, becoming instantly popular and garnering the already seething resentment of Ash, who already can’t live up to his confident, capable dad. Jealousy flourishes as Kristofferson accompanies Mr. Fox on his poaching exploits, with a bandit-masked Ash in hot pursuit – only his mask is made of a tube sock.

There’s rebellion, petty crime, greed, discrimination, and love, all elements of the human world, translated to a furry, funny microcosm of animal antics. Mr. Fox leads his animal neighborhood into a flood of trouble, but the clever community prevails over the presumably more clever, mechanized humans.

Several scenes of dancing and merriment among the creatures can seem silly and disconcerting at times and you’ll either welcome the sudden break in mood or find it irritating and out of place; either way, you won’t see it coming, and that’s a refreshing change of pace all its own.

Another surprise is the way the animals devour their meals, which is the singular action that reminds the viewer that they are actually wild within their erudite personas.

George Clooney brings a logic to the slyness of Mr. Fox and Meryl Streep’s wisdom balances the see-saw with a cautionary level-headedness. Jason Schwartzman can give voice to a pout like no other and Bill Murray’s Badger lawyer in a three-piece suit will make you want to retain him for your next transaction. He knows his equity.

Director Wes Anderson embraces odd family dynamics and here it’s the Fox father-son relationship that is instantly recognizable to anyone with a teenager. Co-writer Noah Baumbach (The Life Aquatic) explores relationships between family and community, drawing commonalities in the way we all interact, extrapolating emotions into the animal kingdom as if it were just another suburban development.

The jerky, fur-moving, fingerprint residue charm of stop motion conjures up Gumby, parts of King Kong, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There’s a nostalgia attached to the frame-at-a-time movement that enhances it, rendering character expressions more…well, expressive. Children will like the visuals but miss the humor that adults will find off-beat and edgy.

Other voice talent includes Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson as Coach Skip, whose explanation of Whack-Bat, the animals’ national pastime is an exercise in convoluted logic.

Perhaps in the fox world this kind of communal mammal mayhem is fantastic. Here it is merely fearless, farcical and fun, and for an old-fashioned, claymation- concocted cacophony of chaos and cleverness, that is quite enough.


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