Few filmmakers are better suited to the world of stop-motion animation than Wes Anderson. The director has fine-tuned his visual aesthetic over the course of his career, bringing quick and stable camera movements, gorgeous set designs, and specific yet vibrant color palettes to the forefront of his signature style. After a swell run films that made him one of the most exciting directors in the business, Anderson expanded his scope to the sea (Life Aquatic) and international locales (Darjeeling Limited) before diving into the world of stop-motion animation for his 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The result is a highlight of an already impressive career, and the impeccable Roald Dahl adaptation is finally a part of the Criterion Collection. Hit the jump for my Fantastic Mr. Fox Blu-ray review.
Fantastic Mr. Fox tells the story of, well, Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his family. When the movie opens, Fox is happily raiding a farm with his wife, Felicity (Meryl Streep). When the two become trapped, Felicity tells Fox that she’s pregnant, and then we flash forward 12 Fox Years (or Two Human Years) later where we find Fox living a significantly more subdued family life and working for the local paper. Their son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is more of an outsider, as he’s clearly not the popular jock that Fox was when he was in school, and the twinkle in Fox’s eye signals that his wild spirit can’t stay put for long.
The story kicks into gear when Fox and his friend, Kyle the Opposum (Wally Wolodarsky), raid the three farms owned by Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Offended, the trio wage war on Fox and, by extension, the entire animal community, leading to a series of adventures that are both exciting and perilous.
I knew I was in love with Fantastic Mr. Fox the moment The Beach Boys’ “Heroes and Villains” kicked in, accompanying the opening chase sequence shot with Anderson’s signature dolly track. The film maintains the imaginative tone of Dahl’s book while expanding upon the story with higher stakes and Anderson’s deadpan dialogue. The sets and puppets are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and indeed this may be Anderson’s prettiest film overall. The attention to detail is astounding, as every background, shop, and costume fits perfectly into the aesthetic tone that Anderson has chosen for the film.
The story is at once kid-friendly and surprisingly dark, dealing with issues like mortality, death, and family with straight-faced candor. Ash feels like an insufficient son as his father takes a stronger liking to his naturally gifted cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), and instead of following well-worn territory by having the father realize this on his own, Fox is completely open about his fondness for Kristofferson over Ash. Felicity is a bit underdeveloped as the film feels overtly male-dominant, but that may have simply been a decision on Anderson’s part to keep the “animal kingdom” dynamic realistic. Still, it would have been nice to see her become a more integral part of the story aside from painting murals.
Above all, though, Fantastic Mr. Fox is hilarious. The voice casting is spot-on and the dialogue from Anderson and Noah Baumbach’s script soars through the mouths of the stop-motion puppets with ease. The filmmaker is able to maintain his visual style in the stop-motion world, but he’s also not afraid to branch out and take advantage of the unique opportunities that animation brings. The tracking shots in particular are wildly impressive to behold, seeing as how they took months to complete.
Another highlight of the film is Alexandre Desplat’s playful and ever-so-slightly foreboding score. The use of a boys’ choir is in keeping with Dahl’s childrens book tone, but Desplat also isn’t afraid to go a bit darker when situations become dire for our main characters. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as the wild spirit of Fox is captured perfectly and the Boggis, Bunce and Bean theme is a highlight. Anderson sprinkles the film with excellent needle-drops as well, with The Beach Boys acting as the unofficial sponsors of the film. It’s a match made in heaven, as the harmonies of Brian Wilson and Co. go hand-in-hand with Anderson’s visual aesthetic and collection of characters.
The HD transfer of the film is absolutely stunning. You can clearly see the painstaking work that went into making the puppets, which makes the film all the more impressive. The audio, as well, is excellent; Anderson’s swell soundtrack pulses in 5.1 DTS-HD.
As with most every Criterion release, this one is loaded with bonus features tailored specifically to the tastes of cinephiles. In addition to the video features, the Criterion set comes with a gorgeous booklet filled with artwork, drawings, behind-the-scenes photos, an essay by Erica Wagner, and most excitingly the full White Cape comic book that appears briefly in the film.
- Audio Commentary – A new commentary by Anderson recorded in 2013. He covers the production, aesthetic design, performances, and much more—including a tidbit about how Magnum P.I. inspired the film.
- The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox - A half-hour, seven-part documentary that reveals how the film was made. The sections include voice recording, puppet tests, art department references, a studio visit, time-lapse photography, music, and miniature objects. Perhaps most fascinating is seeing how Anderson recorded the actors’ voices in various locations instead of a booth, including outside in fields and even in the back of a trailer.
- Roald Dahl Reads Fantastic Mr. Fox – An audio recording of the author reading his book.
- Fantastic Mr. Dahl – An hourlong television special celebrating the life and work of Dahl, complete with archive footage and interviews with his family and friends.
- Publicity Featurettes – 31 minutes worth of EPK-style featurettes that delve into the making of the film. Interviews with the cast are included.
- Awards Speeches – A short, three-minute collection of speeches at the National Board of Review and the Academy Awards.
- Discussion and Analysis – This 11-minute featurette has two kids speaking about the merits of the film in decidedly immature terms.
- Witch’s Tree – An almost 2-minute long clip of Dahl discussing his influences for Fantastic Mr. Fox.
- Dahl’s Manuscripts – 18 pages from an early draft of Dahl’s book, along with correspondence between Dahl and his editor Fabio Coen.
- Set Photography by Ray Lewis – Self-explanatory, but this is a collection of 50 behind-the-scenes images from the film.
This film ranks towards the very top of Anderson’s already impressive filmography. Even if the story or script weren’t top-notch, the breathtaking stop-motion animated visuals would make this a must own Blu-ray alone, but luckily that’s not the case, making this an incredibly worthwhile purchase for even the most casual of Wes Anderson fans.