I have no fond childhood memories of “Where the Wild Things Are,” the picture book. And, despite the fact that I shop at Urban Outfitters, I couldn’t be bothered to slog all the way over to the Criterion and shell out 10 bucks to watch the film. To its credit, I heard it was very good.
But now there’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a second sort-of children’s movie based on a children’s book (and one which I like quite a lot). In the way that “Where the Wild Things Are” was marketed heavily to those far beyond the age at which one would actually read the book, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was also made for an adult population, one that actually grew up with the 1970 Roald Dahl classic. All this under a winking guise of child-friendliness: screenwriters Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach went out of their way to include dozens of obvious f-bomb phrases cheekily replaced with the word “cuss.” It’s not like the movie was made for kids with some grown-up jokes thrown in as a courtesy; this is a movie for adults that kids can enjoy too.
The stop-motion puppets stand diametrically opposed to the gorgeous 3-D animation that has become the standard for today’s tiny moviegoers. The characters’ matted fur and jerky movements are reminiscent of 1988’s “The Mouse on the Motorcycle.” That’s old school. And then there are the voices themselves. In the refreshingly nuanced tones of George Clooney (whose voice was made to be listened to, btw), Meryl Streep, and Michael Gambon, it’s almost like they’re… acting? In an animated movie? Crazy! Plus, only an adult audience would get such a kick out of Mrs. Fox’s deadpan, “I’m pregnant.”
The concept of the movie — fox steals chickens, fends off farmers — is too literal to be as wholly embraced by the whimsy-seeking hipster circuit as “Where the Wild Things Are.” But once you’ve dragged yourself to theater and spent the money on the ticket (which, to be clear, is totally worth it), you’ll be surprised at the movie’s quirky, folksy appeal. Hipsters could eat this cuss up! The animation style is winningly homemade, and each shot is set up like an arty tableau. It feels like an extended (extended) music video; a smooth horizontal pan has a tiny Mr. and Mrs. Fox running through a chicken coop to frantic banjo music. Still, when Farmer Bean’s banjo-playing employee Petey gets a little too artsy-folksy, Bean cuts him off with a derisive, “That’s just weak songwriting. You wrote a bad song, Petey.”
It’s okay. The movie’s self-awareness just adds to its musical and visual charm, making for a satisfying post-Thanksgiving treat.