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“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a clever, stop-animation film for grown-ups with unique – often bizarre – plot choices, witty dialogue and humor as dry as a Death Valley martini.

Never uproariously funny and often head-scratchingly unconventional, this sometimes strange film does, however, delve into the definition of manhood, presenting questions of the male identity that any married man (or woman) will eventually be forced to answer.

Actor George Clooney’s voice (of Mr. Fox himself) is a perfect fit for the confident, charming, sly protagonist who has hit a sudden and unexpected midlife crisis – torn between surrendering to a life of quiet upward mobility and a too-long-buried yearning for the derring-do of his younger years.

Once a masterful thief of all things poultry, Mr. Fox settled down to a more tranquil profession after his wife revealed their impending parenthood. For years, the domesticated fox was … well, domesticated.

But after moving into a nicer home that just so happens to be across the valley from three farms that present the pinnacle of challenges to a thieving fox, Mr. Fox strikes upon a dilemma: “Can a fox be a fox without a chicken in his teeth?”

From this crisis-of-conscience point for Mr. Fox – will he stay domesticated, resume thieving, or resume thieving on the sly and lie about it to his wife (after all, he is a fox) – the story follows several themes.

One theme is among Hollywood’s favorites, the broken-record tune of a boy who is “different” (interpret that however you will) growing up in his father’s shadow, who wonders if he’ll measure up or ever be able to win his dad’s approval. With dozens of films like “Chicken Little” and “Barnyard” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” repeating this theme over and over, I honestly suspect Hollywood producers have a serious complex about their fathers. It’s a major theme in “Fantastic,” but I’ll focus on another.

A second theme is Mr. Fox’s self-sacrifice at the end of the film, a redemptive story of a dad who repents of his straying ways and negligence of his family to come through the hero in the end. Never mind that his greatest act of heroism is stealing food … but I’ll focus on another theme here, too.

For in a poignant conversation, Mr. Fox declares, “I’m a wild animal.”

To which his wife replies, “You are also a husband and a father.”

Can a man be both?

In his book, “Wild at Heart,” Christian author John Eldredge argues that a man must be both, that he was made by God to be a warrior, and that society (and the church) have done a great disservice to humanity by feminizing and domesticating dads.

Men, Eldredge argues, are designed to be dangerous and adventurous.

And while I agree with Eldredge on this point, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” demonstrates how that truth is so easily twisted by a culture that simply fails to understand the danger of discipleship, the adventure of following Christ.

Mr. Fox, who is understandably pent-up by his domestication, breaks out in a midlife crisis by revisiting the immaturity of youth. He reverts to stealing, to sneaking, to pretending he’s a bachelor again. He suddenly seeks a grand prize to revalidate the long-squashed manhood that has withered in his weary occupations – and that prize, fittingly, imperils his family.

Likewise, how many men, too-long cooped up in a cubicle, too-long taught that “maturity” means menial living, strike out on a similar quest to rediscover their masculinity?

Sometimes the quest manifests in a striving for accolades or accomplishments in a career, looking to validate that lost feeling that somewhere inside resides a champion; other times it seeks release in fast cars, health crazes, video games or outdoor sports; still other times it involves a conquest, and too often, an adulterous one.

Alas, though “Fantastic” raises the question of how a man (or fox) should rediscover his “wildness,” I found its answer unsatisfactory.

In the end, Mr. Fox resolves that wild is as wild does, and his family will just have to live and celebrate with him that he is not a newspaper columnist anymore, but a grand larcenist. Indeed, he has rediscovered that being true to himself means simply casting off the trappings of adulthood and remaining adolescent forever.

How Hollywood. How hogwash.

The “wildness” of manhood isn’t perpetual boyhood, but a graduation to a greater man’s war: the defense of his family, the spiritual battle of Ephesians 6, the determination of discipleship, the conquests of the Kingdom of God and of the sinful flesh, the adventure of living a life with eternal consequences and God-given purpose.

Like fox cubs that pounce and bite that one day they may learn to hunt, the “wildness” of a boy prepares him to be a man, a “tender warrior” as another Christian author, Stu Weber, would put it.

And to this end, the odd “Fantastic Mr. Fox” – like many of Hollywood’s offerings – asks the right questions, but without Christ, fails to find the right answers.

Content advisory:

  • “Fantastic Mr. Fox” makes liberal use of profanity, however, the characters insert the word “cuss” instead of actually uttering profane words. Thus, the characters say things like, “What the cuss?” and, “Oh, my cuss,” instead of actually … well, cussing. There are no exceptions to the standing “cuss” joke, even when a character refers to a difficult situation as a “cluster-cuss.”
  • Outside of a kiss and the reference to Mrs. Fox as a “tart” in her younger days, there is no sexuality in the film.
  • The film has frequent alcohol and tobacco use by several characters.
  • Violence includes a karate fight, a knife fight, gunfire, explosions and a man set on fire, though no blood or gore is depicted. There is some gruesomeness when a fox loses his tail and is bandaged afterward.
  • Potentially religious or occult content consists of some cave drawings depicting animals, a rabbit that crosses himself in Catholic fashion before a dangerous mission and several instances of the cousin fox meditating in lotus position. The meditation is depicted positively, and other characters later follow his example.

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