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Fantastic Mr. Fox

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Scene from the animated adventure "Fantastic Mr. Fox."
A reformed predator in the animal world of rural Britain suffers a midlife crisis in the droll stop-motion animated adventure "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (Fox).

The result—a touch of menace and a single questionable joke aside—is a parable rich in sophisticated family entertainment, with abundant fun for youngsters and a few insights into the tensions and paradoxes of human nature for adults.

Director and co-writer (with Noah Baumbach) Wes Anderson's clever, lovingly crafted adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1970 children's book finds its titular vulpine character (voice of George Clooney) torn between his respectable life as newspaper columnist and family man— with caring but pragmatic Mrs. Fox (voice of Meryl Streep) and slightly quirky son Ash (voice of Jason Schwartzman) depending on him—and the memories of his wild past as a chicken thief poaching on local farms.

Abetted by his daring nephew Kristofferson (voice of Eric Anderson, the director's brother) and possum pal Kylie (voice of Wally Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox resumes his raids. But the infuriated response of a trio of mean-spirited farmers (voices of Michael Gambon, Robin Hurlstone and Hugo Guinness)—who resort to ever escalating countermeasures— eventually threatens not only the Fox clan, but their whole burrowing community.

Underlying the gentle domestic comedy generated by Mr. Fox's inept attempts to deceive his spouse about his backsliding—Ma Fox, like Alice Kramden of "The Honeymooners" before her, knows her husband's foibles far too well to be misled for long—lies a positive and touching portrayal of marriage.

And, though somewhat more melancholy, the father-son relationship between Mr. Fox and Ash, which involves the eccentric, cape-wearing boy in a seemingly hopeless rivalry with his dashing cousin, movingly reflects the universal yearning for parental acceptance.

As Mr. Fox wavers between the rewards of stability and the lure of danger, scenes in which his otherwise placid behavior suddenly gives way to a frenzy of mindless eating, from which he emerges slightly dazed, hint at the capacity of human passions and appetites to overwhelm the necessary restraints of civilized life.

While the violence on view here is strictly of the cartoon variety, situations of peril— including the fate of Mr. Fox's tail—may be too much for the littlest.

As for a fleeting, supposedly humorous reference to Mrs. Fox's youthful indiscretions by which, we learn, she became known as the "town tart," the moment is entirely out of keeping with the otherwise unobjectionable proceedings, and might have warranted a more restrictive classification but for the value of the fable as a whole.

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I—general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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