After the narrowest of his escapes in a life of thievery, Mr. Fox (a fox) promises to earn his living lawfully and tranquilly as a newspaper writer. But when he moves into an expensive new house in temptingly close proximity to the properties of three wealthy and watchful farmers, he soon decides to go on one last extravagant crime spree, with help from a possum, his athletic nephew and (despite his wishes) his son. Just when Mr. Fox has all the loot, the farmers unite to punish the thief at all costs, up to and including devastating the entire countryside.
This movie is notable first as one of a surprisingly small number of adaptations of the works of Rhoald Dahl, and second as the latest in a modest renaissance of stop-motion animation. In the latter category, the film is in many ways disappointing, with a technically elaborate yet oddly undynamic style of animation that resembles nothing so much as the rather infamous "Puppetoons" of George Pal. Fortunately, the production puts the technology to effective and creative use, with vivid touches of characterization (a villainous rat voiced by Willem DeFoe being especially impressive) and an overall feel not unlike listening along to an illustrated story book (shall we say three-dimensional anime?). As an adaptation of Dahl's work, while this reviewer cannot claim familiarity with the individual book that is its source, the film fits perfectly well with Dahl's story-telling, and also with the 1970 publication date of the book. Scenes in which bulldozers destroy a hill trying to reach Mr. Fox's den are easily appreciated as a parable of ecology, and a subplot in which Mr. Fox tries to steal back his tail is reminiscent of Dahl's most famous "adult" tale, "The Man From the South." Finally, the film offers many convincing flourishes of regional flavor (all the more impressive given that Dahl was British rather than American), especially a memorably weird sequence in which a celebratory dance by the animals is accompanied by the improvised instruments of the farmers' posse. Overall, as a possible introduction to the work of a great modern Anglo-American writer, this film holds great promise, especially as an antidote to bracingly slick offerings like "Stewart Little"!
David N. Brown