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Fantastic Mr. Fox
Release Date(s)2009 (March 23, 2010)
Studio(s)American Empirical/20th Century Fox (Fox)
Like the beloved children’s story by author Roald Dahl upon which it’s based, director Wes Anderson’s big screen/stop-motion animated version of Fantastic Mr. Fox tells the tale of a particularly sly member of the species Vulpes vulpes. The titular Mr. Fox (wonderfully voiced by George Clooney) is always working some new scheme.
He once promised his wife, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), that if they escaped a particularly nasty chicken coop trap, he’d turn over a new leaf. But an animal just can’t change its stripes, so while (for the most part) Fox’s schemes have usually improved the lives of his family... occasionally they backfire terribly. Case in point: His latest effort to raid the farms of the dreaded Misters Boggis, Bunce and Bean.
Against the advice of his lawyer/badger friend, Badger (Bill Murray), Fox and his building super/opossum friend, Kylie, have plans to raid said farms of all the produce and poultry they can carry. When his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) learns of this, he wants to come along and help. But Fox doesn’t think Ash is strong and crafty enough to be of use, so instead he takes along Kristofferson – Ash’s stronger, craftier cousin – causing resentment from his son. Unfortunately, during one of the raids, Kristofferson is captured, and the farmers decide to strike back at the would-be thieves with brute force (backhoes, dynamite, etc). So now Fox’s schemes have backfired not just on him, but his whole family and all the animals in the Valley. And he’s got to find a way to set things right, before it’s too late.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is simply a delightful piece of work – one of Wes Anderson’s best films to date, and certainly his most accessible. While Anderson’s painterly-specific style of direction and production design can be a bit off-putting to some mainstream audiences, it’s perfectly suited to the stop-motion animated format, in which everything is hand-crafted to be just so. Each frame of the film is carefully composed, with delightful detail in every corner. The characters are realized with the perfect touch of visual whimsy, and the film’s soundtrack, which mixes original score (by composer Alexandre Desplat) with both popular and obscure tracks (from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Burl Ives and The Beach Boys), enhances the story in unexpectedly good ways.
But at their core, all of Anderson’s films are about relationships, in particular those of the family. It’s easy to write his characters off as crazies... because they generally ARE all a bit odd. But they’re also so much more, and that’s really Anderson’s point. After all, aren’t we all a bit crazy? Each of us has his or her own unique blend of obsessions, compulsions, quirks and insecurities. Each of us has unique strengths and weaknesses. And that’s okay, as long as we work together. Because in the end, those are the very things that make life interesting. Here, as in virtually all of his films, Anderson’s characters are each shown to have value, no matter how offbeat they might be. All they really want is to contribute, and find the acceptance and approval of family and friends. As film messages go, you could do a whole lot worse.
The A/V quality of Fox’s Blu-ray is excellent. The film’s colors are stylized to a certain range of autumn/earth tones, but they’re gorgeous. Contrast is satisfying, and all the various little textures of fur, cloth, grass and the like are perfectly rendered in the image. You see every little bit of Anderson’s carefully manicured visual tapestry. Sonically, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is pleasing and natural, replicating the theatrical experience nicely and supporting the images well. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a perfect film for viewing in high-definition, and the Blu-ray delivers.
It’s worth noting that Fox’s DVD version includes a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 7 minutes each, including From Script to Screen and Still Life (Puppet Animation), a quick, 1-minute A Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat – basically just parts of the Whack-Bat scene from the film edited to look like a classic educational film – and a theatrical trailer. Fortunately, the Blu-ray adds 4 more featurettes, including The Look of Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Puppet Makers, The Cast and Bill and His Badger. In fact, presented together, all the featurettes combine to make up their own documentary, called Making Mr. Fox Fantastic. It’s actually quite good, running about 45-minutes in all. You get a great look at the production effort involved, as well as glimpses of the extensive art and animation work and also the actors recording their lines together in unconventional locations. Bill Murray appears often and is as charming and funny as ever. He’s clearly fascinated by the stop-motion process. The wife of the late Roald Dahl also appears, and seems quite tickled by the extent to which Anderson and his team have gone to honor the spirit of her husband’s writing. The Blu-ray further adds a very short Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl featurette, and it’s also a 3-disc Combo pack, which includes the separate DVD version (to give to the kids) and a Digital Copy version on disc as well. Value-wise, that’s not a bad deal (though, content-wise, you do still end up hoping that Criterion gets a crack at the film someday).
I’ve long been a big fan of Wes Anderson’s work, but all too often I’m usually one of the few people in the theatre laughing at his jokes. Not so this time. Fantastic Mr. Fox is charming, enjoyable and perfect for the whole family – except perhaps the very youngest children. True to the original Dahl story, there’s plenty here to amuse both adults and kids alike. Pixar’s Up might have swayed the Academy but, good though it was, nothing from last year topped Mr. Fox in the Best Animated Feature category in my book. Both the film and the Blu-ray (find a good sale price!) are highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt