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Fantastic Mr. Fox

A mid-life crisis might seem an odd subject for a children's movie, but if you make it with talking animals, anything is possible. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, it also helps if you've got the charm of George Clooney and a subplot with a little fox who feels inadequate in the shadow of his father. It's hard when the guy is simply fantastic.

Based on a book by Roald Dahl, himself an author that kids love but some adults feel uneasy about, Wes Anderson's latest film also has the extra whammy of being animated with stop-motion puppets. The combination of talents, sensibilities and throwing back to a traditional kind of filmmaking adds up to something quirky but memorably fun.

When Mr. Fox (Clooney) realizes he's about to become a father, he promises his wife (Meryl Streep) he'll give up chicken-stealing. How that's actually a profession, and how the animal economy even works, never quite gets explained, but it's a detail as easily brushed over as Mr. Fox's fine wool suit.

Several fox-years later, Fox wants something more than his life as a newspaper columnist can offer. The glory days of his youth are gone, his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) dresses as his favorite superhero White Cape, and he's nearing the age his father was when he passed away.

Mr. Fox needs to transcend, to once again have everyone thinking he's fantastic. Seeing a great new treehouse property open up, Fox also finds the opportunity for one last big score. The tree looks down upon three different types of farms, run by human grotesques that are pretty par for the course for Roald Dahl stories. The children even make up songs about Boggis, Bunce and Bean, and you'd think that no one would be sorry to see them ripped off.

Of course, it can't be that simple, and the story takes as many twists and turns as the tunnels that the surrounding wildlife are forced to dig to escape the consequences of Fox's actions. Somehow, Bill Murray's Badger manages to stay impeccably dressed through it all.

Despite some deeper themes, Anderson keeps it light. His storytelling revels in simple pleasures, something Mr. Fox always manages to indulge but has forgotten to acknowledge. There's a real talent in being the best minnow gatherer, and everyone has something like that.

It's a celebration of family and friendship, and the people you don't have to impress to be fantastic. For the holiday season, it's a little bit old-fashioned, but it's time. For a guy that usually makes movies that seem to play best to a select audience, it's a little weird to see Anderson come up with a movie that really is for everybody in the best sense.

Go with your instincts and give in to Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Derek McCaw

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