A review of Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated feature "Fantastic Mr. Fox," featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray. Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald gives the movie four stars out of a possible four.

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Movie review 4 stars

“I used to steal birds, but now I’m a newspaperman,” says Mr. Fox, natty in his double-breasted corduroy suit. Roald Dahl didn’t write that line, but I suspect he might have appreciated it.

Wes Anderson’s utterly charming “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is that rarity: a children’s movie for all. Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach have taken Dahl’s beloved 1970 tale of a thieving, clever fox and created a stop-motion animated classic, with affection for the original present in every frame.

It begins with a nostalgic (Anderson’s trademark) close-up of the book: a heavily bound, well-loved library copy with the call number pasted on the binding — taking us back to Saturday afternoons at the neighborhood branch, getting lost in a story.

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” has been wisely expanded from Dahl’s brief book, in which Mr. Fox and his family outsmart a trio of villainous farmers. Mr. Fox (debonairly voiced by George Clooney), is a smart, genial family fox, willing to give up thievery if his wife (Meryl Streep) insists, but unable to resist the siren call of one last heist. Mrs. Fox, an artist (paintbrushes peek out from her apron pockets), is warmly sardonic as she tends to their home. Their adolescent son Ash (a wonderfully cranky Jason Schwartzman) is out of sorts because, well, he’s an adolescent and because he’s coping with his visiting cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), who does everything better than he does. As the two practice diving, Ash falls with an enormous splash, while Kristofferson enters the water so gracefully the droplets form a fleur-de-lis.

Shot in an earthy palette of yellows, oranges and browns (suiting a story that takes place primarily underground), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has a handmade look to it: The creatures resemble beloved stuffed animals plucked from a child’s bed, and the sometimes jerky stop-motion movement has a crafty beauty of its own, with the foxes delicately poised on their toes like ballerinas. It’s a world away from the computer-generated perfection of a Pixar movie, but every bit as enthralling and maybe even more magical: When you notice an animal’s eyes are moist, it’s unexpectedly moving.

There’s a message woven carefully into this tale, about how there’s “something kind of fantastic” about being different (Ash is small and not the athlete he would like to be), but Anderson keeps the tone fresh and witty, never condescending. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — a perfectly timed Thanksgiving film — is ultimately about survival, wit and the joys of extended family, and it ends with a wild dance of celebration. You just may want to join in.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com