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Laramie Movie Scope:
Fantastic Mr. Fox

Mildly amusing, hardly fantastic

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2009) Not particularly funny nor philosophically illuminating, though cartoonish, its intricate plot, occasionally witty dialogue, and clever allusions are not likely to be appealing to children or to make an impression on unsophisticated sensibilities. Certainly not a movie farmers and ranchers would find captivating, especially not in Wyoming where I reside with Mr Fox's admiring salute to a wolf.

So, who is the intended audience? Set in England, there's no suggestion that the three family farms featured (though the farmers are regarded as "nasty" by the animals in the wild) are corporate factories with cruel conditions; they are cooperating in an attempt at protecting their property from theft. Mr Fox as a predator kills chickens (who are denied anthropomorphic sentience) by chomping on their necks for his own benefit. It's the red-fanged claw of nature. Maybe wild-animal enthusiasts and tree-huggers opposed to farms encroaching on feral habitat? But that's all of us to one extent or another.

What's the point of this stop-action puppet animation from director Wes Anderson (who also provides Weasel's voice), co-writer with Noah Baumbach of the screen adaptation from Roald Dahl's novel, other than there's something fantastic (and dangerous) about being different? (I haven't read the book.) The animals are given greater urbanity, wearing clothes and having occupations, than the brutish human characters. Why?

Being too clever for his own good, Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) with his wife Mrs Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) gets trapped in a cage on Farmer Bean's Squab Farm. Announcing she's pregnant, she requests, if they survive, his changing his line of work.

Two years later (how they escaped will eventually be explained) Mr Fox, glib and suave, making his trademark whistle with clicking sound, now a newspaperman writing a column in the Gazette and father of Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), expresses a desire to his wife of not wanting to reside in a hole any longer. Though Badger (voiced by Bill Murray) of the law firm Badger, Beaver, and Beaver advises Mr Fox not to purchase a tree house, he does anyway.

Next his nephew Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson), whose father has double pneumonia, arrives for an extended stay. Somewhat unusual in his effeminate habiliment, Kristofferson also practices yoga, meditation, and karate; Ash resents having his cousin for a guest, a competitor at whack-bat, and a rival for Agnes at school.

Itching for one final, tripleheader fling at farmers Boggis (chickens), Bunce (ducks and geese), and Bean (turkeys and hard apple cider), Mr Fox enlists Kylie (voiced by Wally Wolodarsky), the opossum arboreal superintendent, in "one last big job on the sly," which, of course, means deceiving Mrs Fox. In going to Farmer Bean's, Mr Fox also includes the agile Kristofferson ("This kid's a natural") over his own fur and blood, where the three encounter security in the rodent of Rat (Willem Dafoe).

Suspicious of her husband's late-night appointments, Mrs Fox says to her hubby: "If what I think is happening, it better not be." Led by Franklin Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon), the angry farmers seek revenge with guns - blasting off Mr Fox's tail, which Mr Bean will wear as a necktie - followed by excavating equipment, tearing apart the hill on which the tree house stood, and finally high explosives.

The foxes and Kylie evade capture by digging deeper than the tractors and shovels and dynamite can reach. A siege ensues to "starve 'em out and kill 'em," which threatens the existence of other wild animals, who led by Badger come to Mr Fox (via a tunnel) with their complaints.

With a large collection of boring brethren, Mr Fox leads a fresh assault on the farmers from underground, stealing everything. As his parents and the others are celebrating in Badger's flint mine, Ash hits upon a fantastic notion to retrieve his father's tail with Kristofferson's help.

Before this tale has its conclusion, the animals will get flushed by a flood of apple juice into the sewer, a rat will be redeemed after insulting Mrs Fox, and Mr Fox will consider sacrificing himself to save his nephew's life but instead devise a go-for-broke rescue mission (in which everyone but Kylie will be assigned Latin names). Mildly amusing, hardly fantastic.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)