The Fantastic Mr. Fox **** ( 3 STARS) George Clooney and Meryl Streep give, paws down, their best performances of the year as the voices of the risk-taking fox and his long-suffering wife in Wes Anderson's hugely charming puppet-animated feature, which also features a scene-stealing turn from Bill Murray as Mr. Fox's lawyer, Clive Badger. The movie is unexpected in every way. The stop-motion animation proves hilariously inventive. And the combination of family comedy-drama and caper movie (Mr. Fox, though a journalist, can't resist raiding the larders of neighboring farmers) serves a droll theme: Even if you're a smart, civilized writer, you can't deny your animal nature.
Opening next Friday
Avatar : (20th Century Fox) An avatar, a human mind in an alien body, finds himself torn between two worlds in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people. With Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver. Written and directed by James Cameron.
Did You Hear About the Morgans?: (Columbia Pictures) A Manhattan couple whose marriage is on the rocks witness a murder and become targets of a contract killer. With Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker.
The Maid : (Elephant Eye Films) A longtime live-in maid engages in desperate acts to hang onto her job. With Catalina Saavedra. Spanish with English subtitles.
Opening Dec. 23
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel : (20th Century Fox) The chipmunks head to school to save the music program in a battle of the bands, where they face off against the Chipettes. With Jason Lee and the voices of David Cross, Justin Long, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris and Christina Applegate.
Release dates are subject to change.