Up told us our heroes mean nothing and change is inevitable and necessary, no matter how brutal. Where the Wild Things Are explored the dimensions of our personalities using unsettling-looking monsters. It's safe to say kids' movies in 2009 aren't just kids' movies. Thank God.
With Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson's first foray into animated feature films, the animation (and trailer) are the only things setting the film apart from the likes of Anderson's Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums. The dialogue is just as fast and on the beat and full of awkward pauses; the look is still Futura fonts and tailored outfits; the soundtrack is vintage (except for Jarvis Cocker. Anderson checks The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Burl Ives, to name a few).
So how is this a kids' movie? It has a PG rating, and the marketing targets families with young children. As with Up and Wild Things, it's working on adult and kid (or maybe "childlike") levels without babysitting. Kids will ask questions. "Why is the farmer trying to kill Mr. Fox?" "Why is Mrs. Fox sad?" Or, as Roger Ebert says in his review, "Children, especially, will find things they don't understand, and things that scare them. Excellent. A good story for children should suggest a hidden dimension, and that dimension of course is the lifetime still ahead of them. Six is a little early for a movie to suggest to kids that the case is closed. Oh, what if the kids start crying about words they don't know? Mommy, Mommy! What's creme brulee?" Show them, for goodness sake. They'll thank you for it. Take my word on this."
As for the movie itself: Up mastered Pixar's revolutionary CGI, and Wild Things updated the Henson costume department, but Fox has set the bar for stop-motion animation. It's an Anderson picture book with an attention to detail that doesn't restrict its liveliness and humor. George Clooney and Jason Schwartzman carry the tone and know exactly what Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach are getting at: dangerous and silly. Anderson's color-focused palates blues and golds in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, oranges and wild patterns in The Darjeeling Limited go for warm, autumnal hues and textures you could almost touch in Fox. It's an inviting and comforting look for kids, but there's always a sense of mischief and fear within the story, one that should, hopefully, raise a few questions.