1 of 2
Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and friends in "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

FANTASTIC MR. FOX — ★★★1/2 — Animated feature starring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and others; rated PG (violence, brief drugs, slurs); in general release

As promised by its title, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is, well, pretty fantastic.

It offers proof that you don't just have to make an animated film with computer-generated characters and backgrounds, or with the 3-D gimmickry.

Instead, this quirky comedy was done with clay-animation, which may be an exacting process, but it is one that gives things a unique look and feel.

Also, it offers proof that there's quality animation being done by studios that aren't named Disney and Pixar.

And what's more, it's proof that those who had written off filmmaker Wes Anderson as a one-trick pony might want to reconsider that criticism.

This is certainly the funniest animated feature so far this year, as well as one of the most sly ones to boot. (But be warned that it's not really a kids movie. There is some potentially upsetting material and imagery.)

Anderson ("Rushmore," "The Darjeeling Limited") adapted Roald Dahl's book, about an anthropomorphic poultry thief who's gone "legitimate."

In fact, Fox (voiced by George Clooney) has supposedly retired and has settled down with a wife (the voice of Meryl Streep) and son (Jason Schwartzman).

But Fox is bored by this "normal" life and is severely tempted to raid his new neighbors: Boggis, Bunce and Bean, three farmers who produce chickens, livestock and cider that Fox desperately wants to sample.

This resulting thievery is as much for the thrill of the act as it is providing for his family, who would be horrified if they knew what Fox was doing at night.

It's hard to believe this was such a painful, troubled production. The visuals alone make the film worthwhile, but Anderson's witty adaptation also touches on everything from the frustrations of everyday existence to parental responsibility.

And this is also one of the best voice ensembles in any animated film this year. In addition to Clooney, Streep and Schwartzman, there are Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon and Anderson himself.

All of them sound like they're having a good time. As a result, most of us will as well.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is rated PG and features some strong, animated violent content and imagery (animal violence, gunplay and knife violence, animated and vehicular mayhem), brief drug content and references (mostly sedatives), derogatory language and slurs and creative use of cursing (non-profanities that sound like real ones). Running time: 87 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com