Fantastic Mr. Fox [Blu-Ray]
Director : Wes Anderson
Screenplay : Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach (based on the book by Roald Dahl)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2009
I would hardly be the first critic to note how unsurprising it is that Wes Anderson finally made an animated film, given that all of his previous films, particularly since The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), have essentially been cartoons populated by human actors. The irony is that, in moving entirely into the realm of animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson has made his most recognizable human and emotionally moving film since Tenenbaums.
His last two films, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), were hampered by a thematic tiredness and a stagy, hyperrealized production design that either overwhelmed the characters or boxed them in. One would think that animation’s allowance for complete and utter control over every single detail on-screen would only heighten that tendency and make it worse, but it actually does the opposite by making Anderson’s trademark quirk seem loose and at home, rather than repetitive. The film recycles virtually all of his favorite aesthetic and narrative devices, from the use of on-screen titles, to a story that hinges on an absent father-troubled son dynamic, to a preponderance of British invasion and classic pop-rock (primarily early Stones and The Beach Boys), but when brought to life by old-fashioned stop-motion animation, it seems almost new again.
Anderson’s aesthetic has always been deeply rooted in a nostalgia for outdated styles, technologies, and techniques, thus it is only right that he would go for the time-consuming and ultimately imperfect rigor of stop-motion animation over more modern methods like CGI or even the fluid mix of stop-motion and CGI that Henry Selick displayed in Coraline (2009). The slightly jerky, unnatural movements of traditional stop-motion figures, coupled with the evidence of the artists’ fingers on the various characters’ fur coats, gives the imagery a tactility and presence that far outweighs its lack of visual realism and provides Anderson plenty of room for storybook-visual playfulness.
While Roald Dahl’s original book (first published in 1970) was primarily about survival and paternal protectiveness, Anderson and his co-writer Noah Baumbach (who also co-wrote The Life Aquatic) have reimagined it as a rogue tale about being true to oneself. The title character, Mr. Fox (George Clooney), has traded in a life of chicken poaching for a more domestic, button-down existence as a newspaper columnist. This is primarily at the behest of his wife, the ever-patient Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), who recognizes that Mr. Fox needs to spend time with his troubled adolescent son, Ash (Jason Schartzman), who wants to live up to his brash, confident father (who is voiced, after all, by the always smooth Clooney), but is unfortunately mired in that awkward stage of development when nothing quite fits or works (after seeing Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, one can only imagine that he was primarily responsible for writing the parts of the film involving Ash). Ash’s predicament is made all the worse with the arrival of his beloved cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), who is everything he is not (especially athletic).
Much of the story focuses on the fight between Mr. Fox and three powerful farmers: Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunch (Hugo Guiness), and Bean (Michael Gambon), who together represent all of the worst characteristics of the human race. The fight is instigated by Mr. Fox reneging on his years-old promise to Mrs. Fox to stop poaching chickens, which gets right to the film’s existential heart: Why is Mr. Fox a fox if he can’t do what foxes do? The ensuing adventures, which involve a motley crew of droll supporting animals that range from Bill Murray’s lawyerly Badger to Willem Dafoe’s genuinely creepy Rat, renew Mr. Fox’s engagement with his inner animal, even as it threatens to tear his carefully tended family apart. The existential and familial themes are all old hat for Anderson, but his engagement with children’s literature seems to reignite them into something deeper and clearer; no longer does he seem like a childish filmmaker trying desperately to be idiosyncratic and zany, but rather an adult filmmaker using a children’s story to speak across generations.
|Fantastic Mr. Fox Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy Three-Disc Set|
|This three-disc set includes the feature film and supplements on both Blu-Ray and DVD, as well as a third disc with a downloadable digital copy of the film.|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 23, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Given the tactile nature of the animation, there is something especially pleasing about the lifelike detail of Fantastic Mr. Fox’s high-definition 1080p transfer. Even moreso than when I saw it in theaters I was able to indulge the extremely detailed, yet pleasantly primitive nature of the animation, which is key to the film’s sublime appeal. The transfer delivers the fine detail through and through, from the constantly shifting fur on the characters to the exquisitely designed sets and furniture throughout (much of which was apparently based on the actual furnishings of Roald Dahl’s country home). The film’s color scheme, which is situated almost entirely in shades of red, yellow, and orange (there are virtually no blues anywhere in the film), is beautifully rendered in high-definition, with excellent saturation and natural-looking hues. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround does not disappoint either, with a strong low end for the action finale and plenty of finesse and detail to bring Mr. Fox’s completely fabricated, yet oddly authentic world to life.|
|The primary supplement on this disc is the multi-part Making Fantastic Mr. Fox documentary, which runs about 45 minutes and is actually composed of five individual supplements: “From Script to Screen,” which focuses on the work required to turn a rather slender book of children’s literature into a feature-length film; “The Puppet Makers,” which interviews and gives us footage of the talented men and women who built the stop-motion puppets; “Still Life,” which then shows us the painstaking process of how stop-motion animation is achieved; “The Cast,” which discusses the casting and shows us wonderful footage of the actors recording their lines on a farm (Anderson insisted they record in more real-life settings, rather than in an artificial studio); and finally “Bill and His Badger,” which is all about the incomparable Bill Murray. There are two other featurettes on the disc: the extremely brief “A Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat,” which only makes the film’s fictional sport that much more confusing, and “The World of Roald Dahl,” which features an interview with Dahl’s widow and footage of his country home in England.|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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