Wes Anderson’s signature unyielding drollness is hard for some people to take. His jokes are never obvious, though there’s no shortage of goofy moments in his latest offering, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Adapted from the famous Roald Dahl children’s book, Fox is a furious underground group dig that plays out like what we’d imagine a Terry Gilliam cartoon to look like. The stop-motion animation, reminiscent of Aardman Studio’s Wallace & Gromit cartoons, hearkens to a faked forgotten past, so much so, in fact, that five seconds into the film, the sophisticate hero, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), slouches by a tree while Disney’s Davy Crockett theme song plays in the background, as if this were some sort of baby-boomer moment. As if to reinforce his point, we next hear The Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains.” It’s oddly funny, even though it seems like Anderson’s own private joke. Meanwhile, the rest of this film revolves around a plot that involves poaching, revenge, and systematically resisting the encroachment of civilization.
Fox probably is not for your kids. Besides the ridiculously subtle jokes (like a running gag about the word “cuss”), there’s little slapstick beyond a troubling volley of flaming fir cones. And, like all of Anderson’s movies, there is a central, gratuitous death scene smack in the middle of the film. But there’s a quest for beauty, too.
Mr. Fox, like all of Anderson’s protagonists, seeks peace and creativity amid a lot of doom. But this Anderson character is wiser than his mere human forerunners (i.e. Royal Tenenbaum, Max Fischer, or Steve Zissou); he’s in touch with his inner beast. “How can a fox ever be happy,” Mr. Fox asks his wife, “without, if you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?”