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A gift for the entire family

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 2009

"Fantastic Mr. Fox," Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's book, operates on a couple of frequencies. As a PG-rated film featuring talking animal puppets, a cool soundtrack and plenty of sub-rosa humor, it qualifies as that rare holiday movie the entire family can enjoy. And, as a self-consciously quirky movie that manages to be twee and ultra-hip at the same time, it qualifies as yet another wry, carefully composed bibelot in the cabinet of curios that defines the Anderson oeuvre.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" features the voice of George Clooney as the title character, who as the movie opens is stealing squabs, only to be apprehended and, we're meant to assume, rehabilitated. Two years later, he's living in cozy domesticity with Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep) and their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), and working as a journalist, a profession only slightly less disreputable than the one he had before. Still, the dapper, cosmopolitan Mr. Fox is experiencing a bout of midlife dissatisfaction, which he addresses first by buying a house far beyond his means in a very grand tree, then by reverting to his poultry-stealing ways and, when his recidivism threatens his entire community, taking his family and neighbors with him on an "Ocean's Eleven"-type spree.

From the awkward, herky-jerky movements of the title character, who looks like he's walking around on fur-covered stilts, to the movie's rich autumnal palette of russets and golds, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" sticks to an adamantly laid-back, low-key vibe, offering a welcome respite from the whiz-bang computer effects and 3-D hype of current animated movies. Anderson ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums") can sometimes be too knowingly with-it for his own good; like when he casts Brit rocker Jarvis Cocker in a cameo role. But for the most part "Fantastic Mr. Fox" ambles along with a genteel, understated sense of whimsy and warmth. That's Anderson rep player Owen Wilson in one of the movie's funniest scenes, when he explains the rules to a fictional game called "whack-bat."

*** PG. At area theaters. Contains action and smoking. 87 minutes.

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