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Kids Watch: Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Rhianwen Benner: This is a movie for adults masquerading as a movie for kids. Here's why.

fantastic mr. fox movie poster

When Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) suffers from a bit of a midlife crisis, he seizes an opportunity to relive his glory days as a skilled chicken thief. But when he begins stealing from a trio of evil farmers named Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, he mistakenly entangles the entire animal community in a war for survival.

The cast is stacked: Clooney is joined by Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Willem Dafoe. Of course, they're all voicing animal puppets, but it is an impressive amount of star power for a stop-motion animated kids' film, and they all deliver great performances.

The film was directed by Wes Anderson, perhaps best known for "The Royal Tenenbaums" and other highly stylized and comedically dry films. Anderson seems to have given the same amount of detail and humor to "Fantastic Mr. Fox" as his other movies, which makes this a movie that adults will genuinely enjoy.

The world of the movie is incredible to look at, rich with details and neat touches: repurposed cellophane becomes a waterfall, a small river dam serves as the law offices of "Badger, Beaver and Beaver." Much like the recent "Ponyo," it's refreshing to see a movie eschew CGI in favor of more traditional animation. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is reminiscent of all those old stop-motion Christmas specials that you loved as kids.

The film has a few good messages, the strongest being that it's our differences that make us special. Every animal in the movie has unique gifts and strengths, each one indispensable, and when they come together as a community, they are a force to reckon with. Mr. Fox also grows to reconcile his "wild animal" instincts with his responsibilities to his family and community. Feeling guilt over endangering his community, Mr. Fox decides to sacrifice himself for their safety, only to have the community rise up with him and overcome the farmers as a team.

There are also realistic and touching depictions of family relationships. Mr. Fox's awkward son Ash (Schwartzman) and his talented cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) have a bit of a sibling rivalry, going from competitive to protective. Ash desperately wants his father's approval, and Mr. Fox seems to not know how to relate to his son, but their relationship improves and Mr. Fox tells a sweet story to Ash that affirms him in the end.

The main issue here is drinking and smoking. Both the good guys and the bad guys drink and smoke: there isn't a clear stance on the issue. Mr. Fox admits to having had "too much to drink," and that it makes him feel good and sentimental. Alcoholic cider is compared to "drinking pure melted gold" by one of the good guys. Bean -- one of the bad farmers -- throws a cigarette at a musician because he doesn't like his song. Of course, all this is consistent with Roald Dahl's writing, but seeing drinking and smoking presented as "cool" in a kids' movie raises a few red flags.

Language isn't an issue, if only by technicality. Anderson replaces all curse words with "cuss," as in "What the cuss," and "Are you cussing with me?" Your more impressionable children will probably be yelling for their "Cussing apple juice" after this film.

A knife fight between Mr. Fox and Rat (Dafoe), who was attempting to kidnap Ash, ends in an electrocution death for Rat. With his last breath, he reveals helpful information and asks for alcoholic cider as a final request. As Mr. Fox sends his lifeless body floating down the sewer drain, Ash says he redeemed himself. "But in the end, he's just another dead rat in a garbage pail behind a Chinese restaurant," Mr. Fox replies. Have fun explaining this strange sequence to your kids on the car ride home.

The three farmers go to great lengths to try and kill the animals, though there is very little graphic content. (Mr. Fox does have his tail shot off, but it is surprisingly tame.) There is also one disturbing display of rage when Bean -- clearly the most evil of the three farmers -- realizes he has finally been outsmarted by Mr. Fox.

While "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is well-suited to kids seven and up, it really feels like a film for adults that happens to look like a kid's movie.

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
joan November 21, 2009, 10:53 PM

It is sad to see that there are so mahy movies that “appear” to be for children but are really for adults. Why is this?

I am disturbed by this upcoming trend.

Kirstie November 22, 2009, 7:19 AM

Joan, you can’t really call this movie part of an upcoming trend since it’s based off a book by Roald Dahl written in 1970. The movie looks remarkable true to the book - and in the 70s, smoking, drinking and cussing weren’t something we really hid from kids.

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