By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY
Imagine if Beatrix Potter’s cuddly storybook menagerie took a crash course in prep-school chic and picked up a few hints on guerrilla warfare along the way.
That’s pretty much what happens when the grisly delights found in Roald Dahl’s irreverent tales for children are melded with the fastidious aesthetic of director Wes Anderson in the stop-motion-animated The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which opens Nov. 13.
Anderson, 40, feels he was destined in a way to do a screen adaptation of the 1970 adventure, which recounts the relentless efforts of three nasty British farmers to halt the crafty critter (voiced with daredevil gusto by George Clooney) who brazenly poaches their poultry.
“It was the first book I ever owned,” says the auteur behind The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited. “My brothers and I loved Mr. Fox and all the digging. We were obsessed with underground forts and tunnels.”
The earth does indeed move onscreen, thanks to the farmers, who use tractors in their manic pursuit, as well as the foxes and their subterranean neighbors (moles, rabbits, badgers and mice) as they burrow to elude capture. With the magic of animation, Anderson is able to present a side view of the tunnel, as if peering through glass at an ant farm.
The much-expanded plot has been tweaked to include many elements found in Anderson’s other films, including a dysfunctional clan and a male rivalry. The four Fox children in the book have been whittled down to one handful: Ash (Jason Schwartzman, channeling his Max character from Rushmore), a petulant social misfit who wears a superhero cape and resents his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson, Wes’ brother) for being good at everything.
Schwartzman, a veteran of three Anderson features, proclaims Mr. Fox as “the ultimate.” “It’s funny, but also visually beautiful. Instead of adapting his style of directing to animation, he brought animation to him. He made a Wes film.”