Wes Anderson has used stop-motion animation before for the fish in The Life Aquatic, but in this feature he really shows his enthusiasm for those pre-CGI days. The tale, and the tail, of Fantastic Mr. Fox is wonderfully tactile, from the soft, mustard-colored corduroy suits worn by Mr. Fox to the plucked chickens that line his parlor to his son Ash's model train set - every scene has a fascinating kind of detail that will remind you of hours of childhood spent making up adventures for a plastic prize from a cereal box. And the adventures of Mr. Fox likely hold as much logic, based quite studiously on the original story in which Fox and his family battle three mean farmers pursuing them across the English countryside, but with added mishaps and nonsense.
Although the animation must have been painstakingly pored over minute to minute, Anderson has kept the story surprisingly carefree. For those of us who may have found the director's previous films a little too neurotic, a bit too uptight, Fantastic Mr. Fox has an infectiously joyful rhythm. The wry remarks and quick sarcasms that are his writing trademark sound easier coming from the mouths of wild animals than well-known actors. Mr. Fox has a Clark Gable-style, old Hollywood perspective on life and this infiltrates the whole film. A perspective partly down to George Clooney and the Golden Age glamour he brings to contemporary cinema.
There are tons of unexplained little moments that go into creating this movie's holistic, over-brimming world. Anderson finishes thoughts you had forgotten you ever had - with a young badger wearing a skeleton print tee-shirt, a giggling mouse, a beaver who ruins science experiments - it all seems to make sense like a fairytale, even at its most inventive points. Anderson taps into a cultural consciousness of comfort, delight and fun similar way to how Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are encapsulates the more contemplative side of growing up. Even as Mr. Fox's nephew Kristofferson launches into another bout of meditation dressed in his karate costume, it still all feels right somehow - an echo of your childhood imaginings of what your toys were up to after dark, or what the dog and cat would talk about when you were out.
It is a rare film that feels purely and pleasingly like entertainment and rarer still to find a film effectively for children that isn't loaded with the hidden landmines of adult problems. Fantastic Mr. Fox does contain moments illustrating Mr. Fox's apparent mid-life crisis, but each is handled with the swashbuckling courage expected of a such a Clark Gable/crafty wild animal hybrid. Mr. Fox is fond of making plans, plans to steal geese or cider, and in his intricate, optimistic planning he reminds us of the joy of delayed gratification, of looking forward and that feeling of all-consuming enthusiasm that seems to get lost with age. It is not just the pre-CGI days that Anderson hankers after, but the days of our collective youth and a time when real guileless youth still existed.
Fantastic Mr. Fox ★★★★
Starring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray. Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Wes Anderson, Roald Dahl and Noah Baumbach. Rated PG.