Wes Anderson style under the guise of children friendly “Mr. Fox”

Mickey Caulfield

Oh, to be a child in 2009; first, “Ponyo,” then “Where the Wild Things Are,” and now Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”––the latest in a stream of charming films supposedly aimed at children but primarily enjoyed by adults. 

“Fox” delivers Anderson’s trademark style in full force. If you were bored by “The Royal Tenenbaums,” thought nothing happened in “The Life Aquatic,” and didn’t get “The Darjeeling Limited,” you’re probably not going to fall in love with “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” But if you’re a fan of his previous work, or a fence sitter with an inclination towards the dark humor of Roald Dahl, you won’t be disappointed.

Starring George Clooney as Mr. Fox and Meryl Streep as his wife, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” spins the tale of a chicken-stealing, goose-snatching, and cider-thieving fox who gives up his life of crime for the sake of his marriage (a flourish added by Anderson not present in Roald Dahl’s original book). Predictably, he is drawn back to his former livelihood to take a final big job against the three local agricultural magnates: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. In lieu of a revealing summary, I’ll simply go with the old back-of-the-VHS-box adage: “hilarity ensues.”

This is, of course, Wes Anderson hilarity, derived more from awkward, fussy preciousness than from typical comedic hijinks.  While some find his style stifling, I think everyone can agree that if any movie should be fussy and precious, then it is a stop-motion movie about burrowing animals with the personalities of educated East Coasters.

While he removes none of Dahl’s original story, Anderson also adds a subplot about Fox’s son Ash’s (Jason Schwartzman) rivalry with his good-at-everything cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson, the director’s brother). Of course, Anderson’s favorite players Bill Murray and Owen Wilson have parts, and although they, like the rest of the cast, are completely typecast, none of it feels hackneyed.

Cinematography, soundtrack, and dialogue smack of every other Anderson movie, but it feels like apotheosis for the indie cinema poster boy rather than milking the cow. Anderson may be locked into a very specific style, but he’s mastered it.