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Fantastic Mr. Fox: Toon with tempo

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FANTASTIC MR. FOX Whatever is in the water out in Los Angeles is forcing today's most acclaimed young filmmakers to bring beloved children's books to the big screen. First it was Spike Jonze directing an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, and now it's Wes Anderson helming a motion picture version of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. At this rate, can we soon expect Darren Aronofsky to tackle Dr. Seuss' Hop on Pop and Paul Thomas Anderson to serve up Arlene Mosel's Tikki Tikki Tembo? As for Anderson's stop-motion-animated opus, it's an improvement over Jonze's recent live-action effort, even if it falls short of being the new family classic dictated by the advance buzz. The mistake would be in categorizing it as a children's film, as it largely leaves out the sort of oversized humor found in movies made for the small fry. Instead, its pleasures, including Anderson's painterly compositions and the A-list vocal cast, seem more likely to win over viewers of voting age and above. George Clooney brings his usual mix of leading-man swagger and character-actor eccentricity to his interpretation of the title character, a newspaper columnist who once promised his wife (a largely wasted Meryl Streep) that he would leave behind his life of danger (i.e. stealing chickens) but instead finds himself being lured back by the prospect of sticking it to a trio of wicked farmers (the leader being voiced by Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon). Moving to its own laid-back rhythms (an approach sure to cause seat-shuffling from those not on its wavelength), this likable lark functions as a reprieve from the plasticity of most modern 'toon flicks. It may not be fantastic, but it's good enough. ***

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