“Fantastic” may be a little overboard when it comes to descriptors for Mr. Fox, but “entrancing” is about right. Even when Wes Anderson’s bizarre venture into adapting a children’s book via choppy stop-motion animation gets dull, it’s still hypnotic to watch thanks to the style.
A far cry from the smooth lines of The Nightmare Before Christmas and its ilk, this is animation in the style of those early 1980s Christmas programs, in which half the fun is watching characters move in a herky-jerky fashion with their lips not even making an attempt to match the words.
You’ve gotta believe Anderson wasn’t being lazy and was going for the effect, not only to pay homage with the antiquated style but just to put his quirky stamp on Roald Dahl’s work. And boy, does he – especially when it comes to the script – and probably to the movie’s detriment.
Most Dahl adaptations (Matilda, The Witches; and the two Willy Wonka movies) have been at least mildly disturbing, and this one is no exception, but the others at least made an effort to pander to kids. Mr. Fox is as glum and morose as Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and his co-writer Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale. There’s humor sprinkled throughout, but it’s professor’s lounge chuckle humor rather than slap-your-knees slapstick silliness. Picture the wily antihero voiced by George Clooney raising a black power sign to acknowledge a wolf gazing at him from a distance and you get the idea.
The plot stays more or less true to the book. The Clooney character is an unrepentant thief who steals goods from three farmers while trying to shepherd his alienated family. There are metaphors sprinkled throughout that you can either get or pretend that you’re getting by nodding with a smile along with everything else. The movie bored me more than it did my 2-year-old, who stared at the screen in studious wonder, never laughing, fascinated by the darndest sights.
Starring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, based on a book by Roald Dahl. Rated PG. 87 minutes.
Also opening this week:
Old Dogs — John Travolta and Robin Williams further degrade their legacies by starring in a dopey-looking comedy in which they do the Three Men and a Little Lady thing, forced by contrivance to look after kids.
• Odds Williams says something funny in the movie: 50-1.
• Odds Travolta takes a shot in the ‘nads: 2-1.
• Odds a clip of the movie will be shown at the AFI’s tribute show for either actor: 10,000-1.
The Princess and the Frog – Disney digs up another fable it has yet to make into a movie. This one is a return to hand-drawn animation. Oprah Winfrey and John Goodman fill out the voice cast of the movie, which must have had a substantial craft services budget.
• Odds the movie beats Up for the best animated film Oscar: 300,000-1.
• Odds the frog was lying all along just to get some action: 15-1.
• Odds this lives up to the Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin/The Lion King standard: 500-1.
Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available at bookstores and on Amazon.