Tag Archive for children

Movie Review: The Secret World of Arrietty (2/18/12)

Movie Poster: The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki

Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett

How long is The Secret World of Arrietty? 94 minutes.
What is The Secret World of Arrietty rated? G (a few discussions of dying and mortality).

CLR Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Movie Still: The Secret World of Arrietty

In Ghibli’s latest, a different perspective
helps assuage the February doldrums.

Studio Ghibli, the company responsible for such well-loved animated pictures as Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, has done it again. It’s just sort of a different “it.” Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty is based on Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s book The Borrowers. The combination of a British children’s story and Japanese setting make the movie a very odd combination of cultural artifacts and wrinkles in time. Kids’ stories about bravery, about overcoming one’s biggest fear, are a dime a dozen – but subdued, sweetly evocative ones are about as rare as good action flicks.

Many of us read The Borrowers as kids – but if not, you’ve probably seen any number of the film adaptations (which, one assumes, is why the studio didn’t call this one The Borrowers: Let’s Try This Once More). It’s about the Clocks, a family of tiny people who live in the walls of a Big People home. Father Pod (voiced in the American version by Will Arnett), mother Homily (Amy Poehler), and spirited teenage daughter Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) leave the confines of their home only to “borrow” small things the “human beans” won’t miss: sugar cubes, buttons, cookies. When human bean Aunt Jessica brings home her sickly nephew Shawn (David Henrie), the Clocks’ world explodes. During her first Borrowing, Arrietty is spotted by Shawn. What ensues, as you’d assume, is a gentle friendship punctuated by danger in the form of bitter housekeeper Hara (Carol Burnett).

Arrietty doesn’t bother with 3D, and as a result it feels elderly, a bit nostalgic – and I mean that in the best way possible. In tone, it’s like a sunnier version of Don Bluth’s 1980s animated masterpieces (particularly The Secret of NIMH). Its animation, particularly scenes in the garden outside Aunt Jessica’s house, is absolutely gorgeous: peonies and wildflowers leap from the screen in vibrant watercolor, a decrepit bridge arcs over a tiny stream, and a fat, grouchy kitty stalks among the wildlife. It makes you want to be there.

The interiors of the walls, where the Clocks fend off cockroaches and crickets for food, are rendered with lush detail; a ladder of staples and a bridge of nails become perfectly sized for climbing. When the tiny Arrietty first peeks into the vastness of the human beans’ kitchen, the wind whooshes through her ears: it’s an immense place, as massive as the Grand Canyon to her. As human beans ourselves, we in the audience get to experience our world from a different perspective. When Arrietty finds a discarded needle, she picks it up and it makes a chunk! noise, as though she were removing the venerable sword from the stone; when she sheathes it in her dress, it makes the familiar metallic scrape we associate with blades. The cat, Nina, is a monster (much like Dragon in Bluth’s NIMH) the likes of which humans will never have to encounter (we hope, anyway). Of course, Nina eventually decides the Borrowers are not worth eating and helps to bring Arrietty and Shawn together for a final goodbye (someone at Ghibli loves cats).

Hiyao Miyazaki, one of the most renowned Japanese directors of our time, contributed to Arrietty only with “planning and screenplay,” leaving the director’s chair to Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Yonebayashi’s film comes with less “comic madcappery” than other Ghibli films, to quote a friend. Hara is a bit of a nutbar, and Homily is a screaming worrywart, but the movie offers few big laughs and fewer totally bizarre moments. It seems like Yonebayashi strove to make a film that would appeal to a worldwide audience and sacrificed some of the wackiness in the process.movie Allegiant

The setting and plot of the movie are timely and timeless, oddly non-specific. Although the garden and the cars in the film are undoubtedly Japanese, the cottage in which Shawn and the Clocks live is peculiarly Victorian in style. Artful crown molding, dark hardwood floors, grandfather clocks, and lush carpets fill the home, though its inhabitants wear Japanese sandals. A gorgeously outfitted dollhouse, replete with miniature Victorian décor, is a dream home for the Borrowers. Further, a visitor whips out a smartphone to look up a pest control company, but Hara uses a rotary phone to call them. We are here in 2012, the movie seems to say, but this place is floating in the past, bobbing between cultures. It’s lovely to watch.

Arrietty doesn’t tug the heartstrings quite like many Disney pictures do – there is danger and intrigue, but the film’s major focus is friendship and love. Shawn’s ailing heart and divorcing parents force him into a life of leisurely misery, while Arrietty’s family’s paranoia keeps her from adventure. When the two discover each other, they bring one another hope and relief. There’s another message here: have faith, and don’t meddle for personal gain. Hara, Jessica, and Shawn each have very different responses to the existence of tiny people, and the movie asks us to contemplate which one we would have: greedy excitement? Smiling acceptance despite lack of concrete evidence? Curiosity and a quiet desire to help?

Arrietty enjoyed a nationwide release due to Disney’s help, but it probably won’t break the box office. It’s smart, quietly poetic, and gently funny. One wonders if it’ll find its audience: kids are likely to find it unexciting, and adults (except the nerdy ones who’ll see any Ghibli movie) are likely to expect something it isn’t. In any case, it’s a lovingly animated movie that transposes your perspective, makes you think about believing in magic. It’s a cure for the February blues.

Movie Review: Rango (3/5/11)

Movie Poster: Rango


Directed by Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by John Logan

Johnny Depp as Rango / Lars
Isla Fisher as Beans
Ned Beatty as Mayor
Timothy Olyphant as Spirit of the West

Running time: 107 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking.

CLR Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Movie Still: Rango

Priscilla (Abigail Breslin) and Rango (Johnny Depp) in Rango
[Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures, © 2011 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved]

New animated picture gives Pixar a run for its money, offers wit and smarts amid loving satire of Spaghetti Westerns.


Gore Verbinski is a rare director whose films span all genres, one who remains in the shadows even though his movies kill at the box office (Verbinski is responsible for The Ring and the massively popular Pirates of the Caribbean films). In conjunction with Nickelodeon, Verbinski’s latest offering is this weekend’s animated Spaghetti Western Rango. It’s a playful love note to John Ford, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood. It’s beautifully rendered, stylishly written, and a lot darker in tone than you’d think.

Long gone are the days in which animation was kid stuff. Thanks in part to Pixar and Adult Swim, adults nowadays adore American cartoons just as much as (and sometimes more than) their wee offspring. Before the lights go down on Friday’s matinee, toddlers coo and squeal while their parents tiredly munch popcorn. As the film opens, introducing our reptilian protagonist, children’s giggling punctuates every movement of the lopsided lizard. Shortly, though, the kiddies grow weary and adult chuckles and guffaws soar over the kids’ heads. Rango may be a Nickelodeon movie, but it’s bleaker and sharper than your average kid fare. It’s rated PG, so no worries as to whether or not it’s appropriate for your little one’s delicate sensibilities—but it may not suit her tastes. Adults, though, will find themselves chuckling at film-school plot machinations and playful jabs at Western tropes.

The film opens on a Mariachi band of burrowing owls in sombreros serenading the audience, inviting us to “enjoy our confections” as they sing us the tale of our doomed hero. Forthwith we meet a crooked chameleon with a lopsided head (voiced by Johnny Depp, who can apparently do anything) acting out a lonely fantasy with a broken Barbie doll and a wind-up fish. “That’s it!” he proclaims, unsatisfied with his own performance. “Our hero can’t exist in a vacuum!” Obviously, he needs some outside force to propel him into action! (This kind of patently plain foreshadowing punctuates the film.) Shortly, our chameleon and his aquarium are thrown out the car’s back windshield, where he finds himself in the southwestern desert, frying in the heat and shedding his skin. He meets a cryptic, wise armadillo who directs him toward Dirt, a little town a day away. In Dirt, the chameleon christens himself Rango and impresses the townsfolk (owls, moles, lizards, and other desert creatures) with his flair for dramatics. It’s not too long before they make him Sherriff—and task him with finding precious agua to keep the town alive.

Every hero needs a leading lady, and in Rango’s case it’s Beans (Isla Fisher), a sassy frontierswoman (lizard) whose only flaw is her natural defense mechanism—to go completely stock-still at random moments. He meets the smarmy, power-hungry Mayor (Ned Beatty), an aged turtle in a wheelchair who promises his people water and offers them spooky religious imagery. In any self-respecting flick a true hero has to suffer through a spell of self-doubt, and Rango gets his. But before long…well, of course our bumbling, hapless hero saves the day. Don’t they always?

Like last year’s Best Picture nominee Toy Story 3, Rango is thoroughly charming because it deliberately strums those self-referential, witty chords that delight us so. It pokes at overplayed, legendary Western thematic material while remaining droll and almost—but not quite—too smart for its own good. John Logan’s (Gladiator, The Aviator) elegantly written screenplay uses language that will soar high above kids’ heads—you’ll hear the words “annuity,” “malfeasance,” and “conundrum,” among others. It follows a surreal, ludicrously self-aware path, and the writing has a very “Coen brothers” feel. In the lively, southwestern-influenced soundtrack you might recognize a similar yodel to the famed music from Raising Arizona, and inept but lucky Rango bears a tonal resemblance to H.I. McDonough. Westerns seem to be experiencing a resurgence (mostly at the hands of the Coens, in fact), and Rango will certainly bask in their newly restored success.

What truly makes Rango exceptional, though, is that Industrial Light and Magic’s animation may have Pixar’s artists shivering in their cowboy boots. Every scale on Rango’s chartreuse face, every strand of fur on the tiny desert pigs, each downy feather on a turkey’s visage, is lovingly rendered. Perhaps most remarkable is the detail in the creatures’ eyes. Verbinski consulted with Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, and as a result the animation is brilliant—were it not for the, you know, talking animals, you’d think the desert landscapes were real. And thank the Hollywood heavens Verbinski didn’t see the need to make Rango in 3D—it’s pretty perfect as is.

Rango may not see quite the level of success last year’s major animated pictures did, but it is sure to delight adults with its intelligence and children with its impeccably executed animation. Its characters won’t burrow into your heart like the beloved robots of WALL-E or the dejected toys of the Toy Story movies, but for a springtime evening in the theater, they’ll certainly do. Fair warning, though: these critters are more frightening than cute—particularly Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy). If you long for the days of John Wayne, wish for the smarts that were lacking in the acceptably adorable Gnomeo and Juliet, or just have a love for Johnny Depp, you’ll appreciate Rango.

Movie Review: Toy Story 3 (6/19/10)

Movie Poster: Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3

Directed by Lee Unkrich
Screenplay by Michael Arndt and John Lasseter

Tom Hanks as Woody (voice)
Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear (voice)
Joan Cusack as Jessie (voice)
Ned Beatty as Lotso (voice)
Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head (voice)
Michael Keaton as Ken (voice)

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Toy Story 3

Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Woody (Tom Hanks)
in Toy Story 3

©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Pixar Has Another Winner:
‘Toy Story 3’ Is a Fantastic Family Film

Pixar Animation Studios strutted into the hearts of moviegoers everywhere with the click of Woody’s bootheels and the pew-pew of Buzz Lightyear’s laserbeams in 1995’s Toy Story. Since then, the studio has made nary a mishap (with the possible exception of Cars, which was hit-or-miss but charming nonetheless). The latest addition to the Pixar stable, Toy Story 3, is no different: from start to finish, it’s a near-perfect family film.

Have you ever wondered what toys do when you leave them lying on the floor in the dark? The creative geniuses at Pixar did, and it was good. The world was introduced to Andy’s toys with the first Toy Story. Plush-and-plastic cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) spouts generic lines like “There’s a snake in my boot” when you pull the cord in his back. Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a spaceman from Star Command with working wings and LCD lasers, has a voice all his own. A supporting cast including piggybank Hamm (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (originally voiced by the late Jim Varney, replaced in Toy Story 3 by Blake Clark), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex the dinosaur, and a trio of claw machine aliens, scuttled, hopped, and sprang into our hearts in the first and second films.

The inimitable, irrepressible toys are back for a third film, and they’re up to all new antics. Lest we forget, fifteen years have passed since the first movie, and little Andy is seventeen and headed off to college. As we all know, when you’re seventeen any reminder of your childhood is an insult, so when Andy’s mom harangues him to donate his toys, he calls them “junk” but secretly plans to keep them in the attic. Things go awry, and the crew of toys ends up at Sunnyside Day Care Center, which seems like heaven on earth…until the toddlers arrive. The toys soon learn Sunnyside isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and plan an escape.

Somehow or other, the animators and writers at Pixar manage to make even the most mundane objects fascinating, lovely, hilarious, and even terrifying. Those of us in our mid-twenties may remember how horrific the Frankentoys from Toy Story were, how malevolent the cruelest child can be through the animators’ lens. Is there anyone who doesn’t find a beaten-up babydoll or a monkey with cymbals creepy? Pixar rides those inexplicable terrors for all they’re worth, and it’s ingenious. Likewise, everyone played with toys when they were small, and there are more than enough recognizable toys to make even the most jaded of us nostalgic. From the spinning arrow of “The Farmer Says” to the paratrooper army men to the Chatter Phone, there are toys here for every generation, and to see them come to life with such realism is terrifically satisfying. Even those who didn’t exactly grow up on the Toy Story films likely find the movies joyous and entertaining.

Pixar’s magic lies in its unfailing ability to fascinate adults and children alike. Toy Story 3 features sequences that will appeal to everyone—filmic techniques reminiscent of ‘80s romance, ‘40s noir, spaghetti Westerns, and classic action movies. Adults will find the homage charming, and children will experience those tropes through new eyes. The toys have to employ numerous Rube Goldberg-style methods of escape—one imagines that board meetings with the production crew were comprised of people wondering aloud, “Now, if you were eight inches tall, how would you make it through two locked doors and over an eight-foot wall?” (Who wouldn’t kill for one of those jobs?)

Toy Story 2 released in 1999, so technology has changed incredibly since that film, but of course Pixar kept up. The toys employ a cell phone to lure Andy to the toy box, Andy’s sister Molly wears iPod earbuds in one scene, and Woody uses an internet mapping program to find his way home. Likewise, Buster the dog has gotten old, fat, and gray, but is still adorable, and Molly and Andy are the same good kids they were—just a little bigger. Plot integration from the past to the present is flawless in every way.

No thanks to James Cameron’s big budget indulgence Avatar, 3D is experiencing an awful resurgence right now. Many films simply shouldn’t be transferred: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, while pretty and fun, misused 3D; Clash of the Titans was a terrible mistake that never should’ve been formatted that way. Pixar is the one and only studio that gets a pass on 3D: they know exactly how to do it right. Although nothing flies out of the screen at the viewer, as in last year’s Coraline, Toy Story 3’s animation is downright gorgeous. Everything from fibers to hair to grass to pupils looks perfect. Surely we’ve all heard that blowhard at parties elucidating at length why film can’t be art. Next time, tell him (or her) to go see a Pixar film and get back to you.

Without divulging too many details, Toy Story 3 will leave audiences giggling, nostalgic, and even teary, seemingly without effort (though of course production of a Pixar film takes years upon years, so there’s plenty of effort). With the magic of gorgeous animation, lovable characters, witty writing, and snappy, smart editing, Pixar has pulled out another winner: Toy Story 3 is a movie everyone, young and old, will enjoy.

Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog (12/11/09)

Movie Poster: Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog

Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements
Screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards

Tiana – Anika Noni Rose
Prince Naveen – Bruno Campos
Dr. Facilier – Keith David
Louis – Michael-Leon Wooley
Charlotte – Jennifer Cody
Ray – Jim Cummings
Lawrence – Peter Bartlett
Mama Odie – Jenifer Lewis
Eudora – Oprah Winfrey
James – Terrence Howard
“Big Daddy” La Bouff – John Goodman

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Invictus

Disney Brings New Orleans to Vibrant Life With a New Princess Fable

No one knows better than Disney that, come time to adorn the Christmas tree, light the Menorah, or decorate for whatever holiday you may celebrate, audiences pine for light-hearted entertainment. This year’s The Princess and the Frog has already earned a lot of press due to its protagonist, Tiana, the very first African American Disney princess in the history of the company—which was founded over 85 years ago. The movie is also the first hand-drawn Disney film since the 2004 flop Home on the Range. Those of us who grew up on Sleeping Beauty, The Rescuers, The Lion King, and Snow White appreciate CGI’s perfection, but have also been longing for a return to the classic style. The Princess and the Frog is a gracious reward for the wait.

The movie opens on a beautifully rendered mansion. Two little girls, Tiana, with gorgeous cocoa-hued skin and plain clothes, and Charlotte, a vivacious little white girl in princess pink and ruffles, listen intently as Tiana’s mother Eudora recounts the fairy tale The Princess and the Frog. All three have lovely, soft Southern accents: instead of being played for laughs, their speech patterns are genuinely pretty. Charlotte swoons over the idea of marrying a prince while the independent Tiana remains skeptical. After all, who needs a man? Tiana and Eudora board a trolley home to the row of shacks where they live: this is a more realistic portrayal of race relations in the Southern U.S. than Disney has ever done before.

Cut to years later: an older Tiana is working herself to the bone as a waitress to buy an old sugar mill so she can open a restaurant. She drops a few coins into one of many coffee tins labeled RESTAURANT before she plops, exhausted, onto her bed. As she rushes back to work, a brass band dances down the street as Randy Newman croons, “Dreams do come true in New Orleans!” The city, which since Katrina has been imbued with a sense of tragedy, comes alive in Disney’s hands. The animation is strikingly beautiful—colors pop, architecture sings, and the music pays loving tribute to the original home of jazz. In Tiana’s vivid imaginings, Art Deco lives and breathes as flappers dance the Charleston and sip champagne in a decadent restaurant in the heart of the south.

On a visit to the city, Prince Naveen of Maldonia, over whom Charlotte swoons—she’s finally going to snag herself a prince!—proves to be a smarmy, self-centered joke (with a heart of gold). When a greedy voodoo shadow man, Facilier, turns him into a frog, Naveen appears to Tiana, begging for a kiss. When he offers her money for the restaurant, she can’t help obliging, and as a result she transforms into a slimy (mucus-secreting, actually) green amphibian herself. The two frogs head into the swamps, meeting a gator who longs to play jazz with the humans, a Cajun firefly in love with the Evening Star, and Mama Odie, a nutty voodoo priestess who lives in a wrecked ship in the bayou. Naveen falls in love with Tiana, and she realizes that her restaurant dream means nothing if she has no love in her life. The plot is fluffy Disney at its best—but the execution makes it a worthwhile watch.

Tiana is a major (and welcome) departure from most Disney princesses, the majority of whom are lily-white and have straight, shiny locks. Her dark skin and curly hair make her an ideal role model for the girls who have long yearned for an idol who looked the least bit like them. Cinderella and Snow White are famously hardworking Disney princesses, but they were enslaved as a punishment for their beauty (notably by jealous older women), and their stories culminate in finding Prince Charming. Tiana’s work ethic comes from her desire to be independent and build her own destiny—wonderful traits to offer today’s little girls. At one point her landlord chastises her, “A little woman of your…background…would have her hands full trying to run a business like that.” Well, she shows him. She’s a fantastically feminist character who, through her integrity and hard work, achieves her dreams. No silver spoons, angsty machinations, or evil stepmothers for this princess. Her motto is “watch out boys, I’m coming through!” Though her story includes a few tiaras, a flawed Prince Charming, and a number of hurdles, she’s not your everyday Disney muse—and that’s the best thing about the movie.

Adults and children alike will find themselves enchanted with Disney’s original retelling of a very American story, and with the animation that renews the vibrancy and brilliancy of a singular American city. Disney fans and those looking for a fun movie on a winter’s eve will not be disappointed. Parts of the movie draw on other Disney films: there are hints of The Rescuers’ fat, lively alligators, the spooky shadow spirits of Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain, and Cinderella’s beautiful ball gown, but these are comforting touches for those who grew up on classic Disney. The Princess and the Frog isn’t a really standout addition to the Disney stable, but it’s certainly worth watching—especially if you have a little girl who longs to be a princess, or if somewhere in your heart of hearts, a part of you longs for the fairy tale to come to life.

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox (11/25/09)

Movie Poster: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Directed by Wes Anderson
Screenplay by Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Based on the book by Roald Dahl

Mr. Fox – George Clooney
Mrs. Fox – Meryl Streep
Ash – Jason Schwartzman
Badger – Bill Murray
Kylie – Wally Wolodarsky
Kristofferson – Eric Anderson
Franklin Bean – Michael Gambon
Rat – Willem Dafoe
Coach Skip – Owen Wilson
Petey – Jarvis Cocker

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Fantastic Mr. Fox

A Whimsical Animated Film for Adults and Children Alike

Wes Anderson’s newest film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel of the same name. Dahl’s novels, which have helped usher many a disgruntled kid through the travails of childhood, don’t condescend to the young, but there’s an element of whimsy that makes readers want to live in his world. Wes Anderson’s movies, on the other hand, can be hit-or-miss. His films tend toward the pretentious, and he uses a broad cast of actors repeatedly in his movies. Understated line delivery, artfully composed shots, and a focus on dysfunction alienate some viewers while drawing ardent fans from the other end of the spectrum. The combination of Dahl and Anderson proves a winner in Thanksgiving’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, with Dahl’s fanciful novel providing a great backdrop for Anderson’s regimented directorial style.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a pleasant return to classic stop-motion animation, a technique little used anymore. The film went through a long and rigorous production beginning five years ago, and the result is well, fantastic. The sets are beautifully detailed, the puppets’ every hair defined, and each movement is choreographed lovingly (as, one assumes, it had to be, since the film is effectively a series of photographs of puppets). According to IMDb, Anderson used a Nikon D3 camera, which allows for higher definition photography, and the film was shot at twelve frames per second instead of the normal twenty-four. As a result, the characters’ movements are a little jerky, a touch that clues the audience in to the stop-motion animation. The puppetry allows for cute touches (for instance, a “pregnancy glow” is portrayed by an actual fox-shaped lamp). The movie has an alternately surreal and very realistic feel, perfect for the material.

When the film opens, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) raid the neighbor’s chicken coop (as foxes do), and she confides that she’s pregnant just as a trap falls on their heads. Cut to two years later (twelve fox-years), and Mr. Fox works as a newspaper man instead of killing chickens, and their petulant son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) strives to live up to his father’s expectations. Mr. Fox can’t stay away from his foxy nature for long, and recruits the opossum Kylie and his nephew Kristofferson to help him begin executing his Master Plan—to steal from the three biggest, baddest, ugliest farmers in the land, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Unfortunately, the farmers catch on and begin a fruitless attempt to catch the critters as they burrow farther beneath the ground, finding new and different ways to outfox the baddies (pun intended).

By nature the plot is a kids’ story, but in Anderson’s hands, the foxes, badgers, weasels, rats, and bunnies are clad in dapper corduroy suits, living a very civilized life beneath the humans’ noses. There is talk of interest rates, feeling poor, and sports in P.E. class, where Ash struggles to “be an athlete” like his father. Though they’re living quite human lives, the animals slowly realize their talents lie in their own nature—foxes are clever, bunnies fast, moles good at digging, etc. The pleasure is in the incongruity between the civilized costumes and the distinctly wild animal behaviors. As audiences we’re used to talking animals in little animal attire, but rarely do Disney’s cavorting critters (or at least not the “good” ones) indulge their true natures. The Foxes, badger, and opossum are distinctly wild animals, and they kill chickens, ripping apart their dinner with wild furor. Anderson cuts away from any fowl murders, of course, and Kylie the opossum even comments, “there’s blood and stuff!” But nonetheless, it’s amusing to see animals acting like animals as well as taking on human characteristics. If there’s a message here, it’s that we shouldn’t try to be something we’re not.

Anderson fans will love that his directorial style is still present in a medium in which you’ve never seen him before. He has a penchant for title cards, and his films sometimes play as though they’re a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive whole, which can be sort of annoying in an adult narrative film. Here, though, the material is whimsical enough that it works perfectly. Anderson evidently acted out scenes himself during production, then sent video to the puppeteers and animators overseas. Though this left some of his crew disgruntled, it certainly speaks volumes about the value of our communications technology. Anderson based the film’s set on the town in which Dahl lived and worked, recorded actors’ voices outdoors to add reality to the soundtrack, and included details that show his adoration of the source material.

Though his style can be overly quirky and a bit affected, Anderson’s films generally get you laughing, and this one’s no different. Fantastic Mr. Fox may not appeal to very young children, but Disney’s soon-to-be-released new cel animation The Princess and the Frog should fill that gap. For everyone else (slightly older kids through senior citizens), Fantastic Mr. Fox is a smart, fun holiday release that’s worthy of a watch. And one thing’s for certain: you’ve never seen a movie that looks like this, but you should.