Wes Anderson owes me one pair of comfortably damp crew socks. For mine have been charmed off. Perhaps it’s my child-like affinity for animals. Maybe it’s my grown-up desire to be told a good story. Or it could be my secret elderly need to cling to out-dated ways of doing things without concern for the advancement of technology. In an age when every animated escapade is festooned with insubstantial computer imagery and useless 3-D gimmickry, the sweetly tactile nature of stop-motion animation is a welcome glass of water in the vast desert of those negative things I just mentioned. The smoke billows not in subsurface scatter computations, but in cotton. The clothes aren’t made by fixing pattern textures to a virtual model, but by a very tiny wardrobe department.
Though based on a Roald Dahl book, the film is imbued with enough Wes Andersonisms (the framing, the wit, the soundtrack) to be a true progeny of both men. Living in the rural fields of England, these creatures ponder the meaning of their cute existences and search their fuzzy souls for deeper significance. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) suffers a mid-life crisis. His son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), struggles to be an athlete despite having no coordination. Cousin Kristofferson (Wes’ brother Eric) copes with loneliness. And Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) strives to hold everyone together through times of trouble and flood. The critter-actors deliver the snappy dialogue with smooth timing and Anderson’s usual stilted cadence. Which, by the whisker, works flawlessly when sporting a bandit mask.
The hook of the yarn comes when Mr. Fox, having moved his family into a new tree, decides to go on one last chicken heist that leads to the infiltration of three different farmsteads: that of Boggis, of Bunce, and of Bean. The respective owners of which are not only subject to the burglering of their goods, but also the mocking of their physiques in a cruel limerick sung by local scamps. Once the humans discover Fox’s activities they go on an excessive assault of his home with ever increasing armaments and news coverage. Ultimately when the livelihoods of all the animals in the area are threatened by the farmers’ retribution, they must band together under the leadership of the fox that brought all cussfire down on their heads in the first place! We’re offered a delightful assortment of gunshots, explosions, mutilations, helicopters, high-speed chases, rescue attempts, a rabid dog, a nasty rat, spiked blueberries, flaming pine cones, apple nutmeg ginger snaps, and just a little kung fu. So basically something for everyone.
Interestingly, all animals are voiced by American actors while all humans are voiced by British ones. To the average Yank, this will probably go unnoticed due to our unbridled mistrust of the devious English. However, to the devious English, I’m certain there will be some teary-eyed belly-aching about the further cultural demonizing of the monarchy by the US film industry.
PS: I loved it. It made my cheeks itch.