A Whimsical Fantastic Mr. Fox

In a way, all of Wes Anderson’s films have been kids’ films. His charming efforts (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) and his more recent, more irritating entries (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited) all consider less than fully grown-up sons frustrated by their fathers’ distance or absence. Fantastic Mr. Fox offers more of the same, and yet this time Anderson’s visual gifts, his dry wit, and, most of all, his skewed whimsy work perfectly.

Tenenbaums felt new and retro at the same time, and so does Mr. Fox, with its gloriously low-tech stop-motion animation in which lovingly detailed puppets are posed one frame at a time and then photographed. The process may be painstaking to assemble, but the result looks cheerfully carefree. The movie, based on a story by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), is a throwback to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the other stop-motion animation kiddie specials from the 1960s and 1970s that Anderson’s generation grew up with.

The title character, nicely voiced by George Clooney, is a born schemer and inveterate chicken thief who, at the outset, is so eager to demonstrate to Mrs. F (the equally fine Meryl Streep) that he understands exactly how the fox trap he is outsmarting works that he gets both of them stuck. Caged, Mr. Fox vows to give up his poultry-purloining ways and get a new line of work (though an equally disreputable one -- journalism) so that the two of them can raise their son (Jason Schwartzman) in a nice tree together.

The awkward son, Ash, who fancies himself a superhero but lacks his father’s physical grace, feels neglected by his dad, especially when his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson, the director’s brother) comes to stay with the family and immediately proves himself a swashbuckler cut from the same cloth as the old man. Meanwhile, much as he’d like to be a model father, Mr. Fox starts a secret campaign to resume his chicken thievery -- this time on an epic scale meant to humiliate the nefarious farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mrs. Fox won’t be pleased if she finds out. Worse, Mr. Fox takes along Kristofferson for the caper instead of his own boy.