Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 48
 
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

BUT HONEY, I PROMISE THIS WILL BE MY LAST CAPER: Mr. Fox (George Clooney, left) and his wife (Meryl Streep) are contemplating one last foray into stealing chickens.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson Directs Animated Version of Roald Dahl Classic

Kam Williams

When you think of Wes Anderson, what ordinarily comes to mind is a sublime sense of humor that appeals to a sophisticated cinematic palate, such as movies like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited. Fantastic Mr. Fox, however, represents a substantial departure for the director from his trademark understated films. In this movie he presents an animated adventure that is presumably aimed at children.

Based on Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name, the film stars George Clooney in the title role with a supporting voice cast that features Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, and Jason Schwartzman. Superficially, the movie looks a lot like Chicken Run (2000), another stop-motion claymation film that was set on a farm. But that’s where the similarities end because Fantastic Mr. Fox is not nearly as charming or funny as the above mentioned film.

The plot is loosely based on the book, and revolves around a chicken thief (Clooney) who tries to go straight after being caught in a trap while burglarizing a hen house. But after settling down with his wife, Felicity (Streep), to raise their son, Ash (Schwartzman), and nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), he quickly becomes bored with his new job as a journalist.

Missing the taste of chicken and the excitement of staging daring raids, Mr. Fox decides to pull off one last big job before finally retiring for good. So, with the help of Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), an opossum, he hatches an elaborate plan to steal poultry and cider from a trio of neighboring agribusinesses that are owned by three mean gun-toting fox-haters: Franklin Bean (Michael Gambon), Walter Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), and Nathan Bunce (Hugo Guinness).

After the heist, in which Mr. Fox has his tail shot off, the irate farmers resort to desperate measures to catch him. Unfortunately, neither side looks particularly sympathetic in the ensuing battle of wits. The owners destabilize the local eco-system by excavating fields and flooding foxholes in order to flush out the wily predator. Meanwhile Mr. Fox selfishly sets out to devour, rather than rescue, the livestock that was caged by the huge agribusinesses.

The movie’s absence of a moral compass might be forgivable if it at least elicited a few belly laughs along the way. Instead, there are a plethora of pithy comments like, “He’s just another dead rat in a pail behind a Chinese restaurant.”

What we have here is a creepy cartoon that has inappropriate inside jokes that are probably over the heads of the desired children’s audience. This is exactly what one would expect of a claymation movie crafted by Wes Anderson. Too bad adults aren’t apt to be any more engaged by this uninspired version of the fairy tale theme of farmers vs. foxes.

Fair (1½ stars) Rated PG for action, smoking, and slang. Running time: 88 minutes. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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