Mr. Fox, although a kleptomaniac and an irresponsible sociopathological thrill-seeker, sure is charming and sometimes even quote-unquote fantastic. But what about the farmers? Boggis, Bunce and Bean are certainly “three of the meanest, nastiest, ugliest farmers around,” but does that really warrant us victimizing and sympathizing with Mr. Fox for troubles he brings upon himself? Well, yeah. Sure, the farmers were ostensibly minding their own business before our anti-social hero lied to his family and stole some chickens, but in the fascinating, whimsical world of Wes Anderson, it all seems strangely justified. And I’m okay with that.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, is Anderson’s fifth feature film and his first comprised entirely of stop-motion animation, an unimaginably painstaking process whereby clay models are photographed, altered ever so slightly, then photographed again ad infinitum until the images are strung together to create a motion picture. The effect is charming, nostalgic and feels oddly more like a Wes Anderson creation than any of his previous films, with the exception of the brilliantly designed “The Royal Tenenbaums.” The ever-quivering fur, the side-scrolling cinematography and the idiosyncratic movements of the characters culminate in the most obsessively detail-oriented cinematic creation in years. Notorious for his implacable perfectionism, Anderson finally does away with pesky human actors that only complicate his vision in favor of an entirely malleable universe that allows him to control literally everything and everyone inside.
What human actors he does work with, however, turn in stellar voice-over performances. George Clooney’s distinctive smooth baritone blends seamlessly into the cocksure persona of the suave Mr. Fox. Jason Schwartzman delivers a mumble-core stew of insecurity and hilarious one-liners as his neglected son who just wants to be an athlete. Bill Murray’s pragmatic Badger is perfectly cast as Mr. Fox’s lawyer/demolitions expert. And the indomitable Willem Dafoe sports yet another comically indeterminate foreign accent for Anderson as Rat, the mysterious security agent employed by one of the ugly farmers.
But as important aesthetic is to Anderson, it’s not everything. Although sometimes accused of favoring style over substance, the auteur’s unique and diverse body of work is almost always oscillating at some finely tuned, nuanced frequency of human emotion. Humanity has a habit of emerging triumphant in Anderson’s films, and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is no different. The importance of family, no matter how dysfunctional, is the theme that eventually supersedes the cheeky narrative of a sly fox stealing chickens for kicks.