Many talking-animal movies aim for adult audiences on their way to entertaining little ones. Everything from the Shrek series to Pixar's classics have been loaded with plenty of pop-culture jokes to keep grown-ups smiling (or groaning, depending on how you feel about it). But Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first mainstream talking-animal movie made with adults as its prime target.
Not that there's sex, swearing, excessive violence or any other R-rated-film hallmarks (Fantastic Mr. Fox is rated PG, so it's safe for kids). But there are few directors who wink at their grown-up audience as much and as often as hipster-approved Wes Anderson, the auteur behind Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and now this wonderful stop-motion fantasy. Plus, Fox's equally hip voice cast — which includes George Clooney, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson — refrains from funny accents.
Anderson and Noah Baumbach based their screenplay on a Roald Dahl story. And anyone who has read the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory writer's books can tell you that Dahl ain't for kids. Still, older children will probably enjoy this dark farmland fable about a group of foxes that wages war against weapon-packing farmers.
Mr. Fox (Clooney) makes a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) to stop stealing birds for a living and becomes a newspaper columnist. After two years (which is actually 12 in fox years), he's bored with the lifestyle and the fact that nobody reads his column. So he buys a new tree for his family and gets back in the chicken-killing game for one or two (or three) last scores. When things don't work out like Fox plans and he puts a bunch of friends (including a rabbit, badger and an opossum) in danger, he must use his natural leadership skills to save them.
There's no mistaking Anderson's touch in Fantastic Mr. Fox: The dialogue, the way the actors read the dialogue and the movie's pacing bear his trademarks. And the old-school stop-motion animation is an exhilarating break from today's CGI crop. It's also quite revolutionary, honing in on the details of the animals' fur and the texture of their clothes.
But a great-looking movie means nothing if there isn't a story attached to it (just scan a list of animated movies that have come out the past couple years for proof). Anderson's film not only expands on Dahl's book, it's really funny. It's also kinda dark. The wild animals have real issues, not just survival ones. And in this smart movie, it's appropriate that it's their smarts that help save their hides.