Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox looks cool. The orange and brown palette and stop-motion animation is bound to send thirtysomethings into a nostalgic swoon. And while it's neat to look at, the story and characters don't deliver on the aesthetic and the whole thing feels geared more toward children of the '70s than the children they have now.
The movie is based on Roald Dahl's 1970 book of the same name, but co-writer/director Wes Anderson takes many liberties. In the book, Mr. Fox is a hero because he steals fowl to feed his family and friends. In the movie, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) gives up thieving to become a dad and husband and starts back on the sly much to the chagrin of his family and friends. Despite offering the concession of the stealing-is-bad moral, smoothing out Dahl's typically biting story doesn't improve it. If anything, Anderson actually makes the story a bit harder to take because his heroes are neither approachable nor remotely likable.
Sure, villains Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness), and Bean (Michael Gambon) are horrible, but the oh-so-slick Mr. Fox is a pompous ass. And his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is really quite awful, mean to his absurdly perfect cousin and snarly to everyone else, which makes it hard to buy into the whole Ash is a misfit yearning for his Dad's love plotline.
Just turning typical Anderson characters into foxes, badgers, and beavers doesn't make a kids movie. And having Clooney and Meryl Streep--voicing the cool on the outside/warm on the inside wife Mrs. Fox--give breathy deliveries of rapid-fire banter isn't enough to make the movie anywhere near as charming as it thinks it is.
The stop-motion animation, though, is fabulous. The foxes and other animals have the perfect mix of personality and Rankin/Bass stiffness--Mr. Fox running on Gumby-rubber legs is particularly bizarre. The use of frequent close-ups, though, is off-putting. The animals' faces are simply not capable of enough emotion to give these tight shots any resonance. So, go see Fantastic Mr. Fox if you want to marvel at the artistry and enjoy Bill Murray's voice coming out of a badger. Just don't expect more from it than a momentary smile.