Like a gifted child at playtime, filmmaker Wes Anderson is one to marvel over his cinematic toys — a fertile imagination giddy with trains, hydroplanes and foreign automobiles. Many of his trademark preoccupations travel through his first movie, “Bottle Rocket,” straight through 2007’s “The Darjeeling Limited.”
Anderson, though, well knows that his vehicles and curios and even wry-wit scripts alone do not transport the audience. To accomplish that, you have to hire smart. Enter right, George Clooney.
“That’s one thing: I wanted to cast him,” says Anderson, speaking from New York shortly before his animated film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — based on Roald Dahl’s beloved tale — opened nationwide Wednesday. “I’ve loved his work in so many movies.” Off the top of his head, Anderson cites “Three Kings,” “Michael Clayton,” even a memorable episode of “ER.”
After two fairly tepidly received films (“Darjeeling” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”), the director fortuitously had landed the roguish actor to voice the title role of the thieving, charming volpone. But even after casting Clooney, Anderson did not fully appreciate what a fantastic fox he had.
That realization came after some of the voice stars — including Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman — headed to their friends’ farm to record lines in the atmospheric outdoors. It was there Clooney — veteran of suave, talky con men (“Ocean’s 11” to “O Brother, Where Art Thou”) — lent his textured talents.
“When we went and recorded on the farm in Connecticut, I got documentary recording of some of these roles,” says Anderson. “The thing I did not realize — until only afterward, when I went to the cutting room — was how much he brings to the performance and how much we’d already gotten. For the animators, these voices are their key inspiration.”
The Oscar-winning Clooney voices a bushy-tailed burglar who settles down into duller life as a family man-fox and newspaper columnist before his midlife crisis, in fox years, compels him to filch again from three menacing farmers. Anderson, who expanded Dahl’s story considerably, says “Fox” was the first book he owned — at least the first one he ever wrote his name in. Now, critics are saying the director, stylistically, has made the story his own — with droll irony and cultural reference points galore, the Andersonian signature is all over it.
The filmmaker says he was inspired, too, by Meryl Streep, who voices Mr. Fox’s wife, Felicity (a nod to Dahl’s second wife).
“I recorded with her in Paris,” says Anderson. “And I felt like she actually changed my approach to the movie. She brought so much emotion, it was (like): This is where it’s got to be. The stakes can be higher.”