Working with his Life Aquatic co-writer (and The Squid and the Whale director), Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson has added an existential layer to the protagonist of Roald Dahl's 1970 children's novel, Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Onscreen, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) is no longer just a devoted husband and father trying to put food on the table, but instead a gentleman bandit who walks upright and steals not out of necessity but because he's good at it. Having given up his life of crime at the behest of Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), Mr. Fox remains, in his heart, footloose, fancy-free, and looking to make one last score. "Who am I? Why a fox?" he asks, literally stating the film's unanswerable question. "And can a fox ever be happy without a chicken in its teeth?" Where Dahl's book was essentially a survival story, Anderson's film has become a non-conformist fable about that wildness of spirit we are encouraged to tame as we get older and "settle down."
For the reportedly painstaking labor it took to create, this stop-motion animated film is a marvel to behold, with wonderful shifts in perspective and an intentional herky-jerkiness of motion that only enriches the make-believe atmosphere. Clooney and Streep do some of their best work, rendering an unusually convincing portrait of a marriage, one of many ways in which Anderson's film--underneath all the carefully affixed, wind-sensitive whiskers and fur--his most deeply human to date.
The film plays tonight at 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. at Red Vic.
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