Make no mistake: This is a Wes Anderson film through and through. Voiced by George Clooney with his perfectly pitched mix of matter-of-fact cockiness and oblivious confidence, Mr. Fox is a happily married husband and uncertain father torn between 9-to-5 domesticity and the thrill of raiding the henhouse. "I'm a wild animal," he explains. But it's less primal impulse than personality trait here, like a career criminal who wants to pull off one last big job before retiring. The fresh meat is secondary to the feral rush of thieving forbidden fowl.

Toss in a neurotic son (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) who wears a towel like a superhero cape, a sewer rat (Willem Dafoe) who dances like an extra from West Side Story, a rock-and-roll soundtrack, and dryly funny dialogue woven through with emotional disconnection and self- delusion, and you've got an Anderson storybook. In other words, a kids' movie for grown-ups.

Stop-motion animation proves to be a perfect fit with Anderson's sensibility. A filmmaker of tableau imagery packed with defining detail and quirky humor, he's the Joseph Cornell of American cinema, creating colorful cinematic boxes around stories of dysfunctional families, absent fathers, and characters lost in ambition and obsession and the need for affirmation and parental approval.

The combination of elaborately designed sets and minimalist animation looks downright quaint next to the expressiveness of Henry Selick or the Aardman folks, but it evokes storybook illustrations by way of 1950s-era puppet animation. Anderson's animal dolls could have stepped right out of museum dioramas and into their vintage-store wardrobes, and the mix of stillness and sudden action (from discreetly ruffled fur to a sudden acrobatic leap) is an animated analogue to the deadpan performances of his human casts.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is Anderson's most satisfying film since Rushmore, his funniest and his warmest. And it's the second movie this year more keyed to the child within adults than to children themselves. Whether kids will relate to Anderson's anxiety-ridden world is a fair question (I like to think they will), but even if they don't, his storybook-illustration images and elaborate cartoon-panel detail are a playtime delight in themselves. recommended