You see, I gave up on Wes Anderson after sitting through his horrible The Life Aquatic. I disliked that movie so much that when his next film came out, The Darjeeling Limited, I didn’t bother seeing it despite enjoying the absolute hell out of RushmoreThe Royal Tenenbaums, and Bottle Rocket. So when it was announced that Anderson would be helming Fantastic Mr. Fox as his next feature, I didn’t give a shit. It wasn’t until I saw the hilarious trailer and saw the fantastic (no pun intended) reviews that I finally gave in and headed out to my local theater. Let me just say how glad I am I gave the film a chance.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox easily ranks as one of the best films of 2009 and equals Pixar’s Up, which is no small feat. A great cast headlines the film with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson. Clooney plays the title character, a fox who has given up his animal instincts by no longer stealing the farmers’ chickens. He settles with his family into domesticity until one day he realizes how much he misses the excitement of stealing chickens. So along with his possum buddy, he decides to commit one last raid on one of the farmers. However, this reinvigorates the fox and he continues to trespass on the farmers’ properties and steal their chickens. The farmers get wise to the fox’s schemes and decide to hunt him down, which ends up jeopardizing his family and friends.

Like all of Wes Anderson’s movies, Fantastic Mr. Fox contains a very unique and quirky tone and sensibility. Anderson apparently grew up in the 1970s and he loves to populate his films with the setting, clothing, and style of the 70s even though the films are not officially set during that time period. The sense of humor contained in his films is as quirky as everything else about them. The humor is dry and sarcastic. You almost get a sense that Anderson doesn’t even mean to be funny, but thats just how his characters and situations play out. I was curious to see whether Anderson’s style would properly translate into an animated (actually, stop-motion animation in this case) film and I was glad to see that it does.

The characters are the real gems of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Each are richly textured and provide their own funny and interesting sub-plot. You cannot help but be immediately engrossed into the characters and their dilemmas. Clooney, as the patriarch of the family, imbues the character with his trademark confidence, charm, and wit. He is not unlike his Danny Ocean character in the Ocean films or many of his other similarly created movie roles. I never get sick of Clooney’s performances even if most of them are alike. He always manage to capture your attention and never fails to entertain you. Meryl Streep plays the Fox’s wife, a role that for someone like Meryl Streep is a bit low-key and nothing special. Jason Schwartzman plays one of the funniest roles as the Fox’s young son, who continually strives to please his father much to his chagrin and who finds himself competing against his perfect cousin for his father’s praise and a high school girl’s attention. Schwartzman brings his classic Rushmore sarcasm here and it was one of the many bright spots of the film.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion animated film, which if you don’t know what that means, think A Nightmare Before Christmas or Chicken Run. The animation is done stylistically and evokes the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other classic stop-motion TV classics from the 70s. The retro-tech stop-motion does not appear fluid and real-like, which was done intentionally to appear retro and it contributes to the film’s whimsical nature. Anderson’s choice to go with this animation technique seems to be a growing trend among filmmakers who, in an age where everything is digital and computer-driven, seem to be embracing old school techniques (i.e. Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are and Disney’s upcoming The Princess and the Frog). This may be why I didn’t give a shit to see A Christmas Carol.

Do I recommend Fantastic Mr. Fox? Wholeheartedly! Unlike much of the shit kids entertainment out there that aims for the lowest common denominator (i.e. the recent Planet 51), this is a genuinely entertaining and smart film that will be enjoyed by adults and kids alike. It does not dumb itself down to kids and some of it may even go over their heads, but it will certainly engage them as will their parents. As a sidenote, one of the hilarious things in the film is Wes Anderson’s alternative method of cussing by the characters. Instead of the characters saying “Fuck this” or “what is this piece of shit,” they will instead say “Cuss this” or “what is this piece of cuss?” Its an innovative and funny device and something that makes the film appealing to both kids and adults. See this film over the holidays and I promise you won’t be sorry.