It’s fair to say that Wes Anderson was in a rut. Since the start of his career, Anderson has been working through relationships of men to older father figures, with this concern devolving his live-action films in to something resembling self-parody. Thankfully, with Fantastic Mr. Fox, stop motion animation gives Anderson a new place to explore these concerns, and the animation gives new life to his ideas, while also giving emphasis to other aspects of the story. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) gets his wife Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) pregnant, and she asks him to promise not to steal any more so they can raise their son (Jason Schwartzman). Cut to two years later and Fox has grown restless and decides to take on an empire. My review of the Blu-ray of Fantastic Mr. Fox after the jump.
Mr. Fox (Clooney) was a thief, but moves into writing columns for the local paper (he assumes no one reads his work), while his wife watches the home and paints. Their son Ash (Schwartzman) feels ignored, which gets worse when they get a house guest in Kristofferson Silverfox (Eric Chase Anderson). Kristof is more athletic and charming than Ash, though Ash can needle his cousin for his tumultuous home life. Mr. Fox is so bored with domesticity that at first he moves in to a tree house – against the advice of his lawyer Badger (Bill Murray) – but makes friends Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky) an opossum who has zone-out spells. Sadly, moving isn’t enough and whatever itch Mr. Fox has isn’t scratched, so he starts stealing from farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean – with Mr. Bean (Michael Gambon) the meanest son of a bitch imaginable. And when the farmers see how much Mr. Fox has stolen, an all-out war is declared. Such puts the entire area of animals under attack, but Mr. Fox won’t give up so easily.
Thematically, Anderson has his awkward father and son relationship in the film, with Ash and Fox at odds because Ash is small and not as sexy as Kristof (he’s kind of a nerd), which has father giving Kristof more attention and giving Ash room to make bad decisions to spite and impress his father. The film has that as a backbone, but there’s so much more here than just that, which can’t be said of Anderson at this worst. Also putting this in the context of ostensibly a narrative for children makes sense – I say ostensibly because the film didn’t find much of an audience theatrically, which is sad. Perhaps adapting (with Noah Baumbach) Roald Dahl’s novella freed him, and it opens up his world. Stop motion enhances Anderson’s OCD and desire to underplay, and so his humor and everything that could be called “Wes Anderson-y” registers as strongly as it did the first time you saw Rushmore, and it breathes. And the narrative has the battle of wits between the violent farmers and Mr. Fox, with the end battle offering evidence of the great freeing power of chaos. When Mr. Fox’s plan comes together later on, it’s glorious. But then there’s also his concern with identity: Mr. Fox has been fighting against his instinct to kill chickens in an attempt to domesticate himself, and eventually he can’t fight against himself. Where the paternal concerns of The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited suggested an artist running out of tricks, here Anderson has re-engaged.
The stop motion also gives some of Anderson’s most precious instincts for set design its best home. That we spend time looking at the background isn’t as distracting as it’s become in his weaker films – in Fox when the focal point is the entire frame it feels right because of the nature of the animation. He’s also working with an amazing cast, with Clooney, Streep, Schwartzman, Murray, Gambon, Willem Dafoe (as a rat) and others like Owen Wilson, Brian Cox, and Adrien Brody offering brief bits. It’s also got a great musical number when Jarvis Cocker’s Petey makes up a nonsense song. This film has joy, and when it ends, with a dance number as the main character realizes their happiness and peace might well be fleeting, it feels as satisfying a climax as anything Anderson has made since Bottle Rocket, which remains his pinnacle.
Fox’s Blu-ray also comes with the DVD, and Digital copy version. The Blu-ray version comes in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1. If you want to freeze frame half the movie, you’re going to see some gorgeous imagery, and the soundtrack is excellent. Anderson doesn’t provide a commentary, but there’s a multi-part “Making Mr. Fantastic” (45 min.) that covers much of the production and gets great value out of Bill Murray visiting the set. It also shows that Anderson acted out much of the movie, and had his cast walk around outside and wrestle to do some of their voice work. This is surprisingly thorough, and better than most behind the scenes pieces. Also included are the useless “A Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat” (1 min.) and “Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl” (3 min.) which gives Roald Dahl’s widow a better chance to speak.