It’s hard to imagine films the way Fantastic Mr. Fox is made. Literally one frame at a time. If you’ve ever seen films of this genre then you’ll know what I’m talking about. And this genre goes back a long, long way back to King Kong. These films have a very unique look and feel to them and it gives you new appreciation for the term “movie making”. I think we’ve become so spoiled by computer animation that we don’t sit and think about what it takes to make a movie like this. Again, I say, one shot at a time. I’ll touch a bit more on that later, but I was surprised to learn that Fantastic Mr. Fox was written by the same chap who penned Willy Wonka and James and the Giant Peach (another stop motion movie). Mr. Roald Dahl must have been a man of great imagination or someone who knew where to score some great drugs because these books and subsequent films are all very clever and have made for some interesting movies.
We meet Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) as he’s in search for a new home; in this case it’s a new tree. He’s married to Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and they’ve got a little one named Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman). Mr. Fox used to be quite the wild one and now that he’s getting on in years, his desire to get back to his old ways is taking over. You see there are three farms near the tree and two have some mighty fine chickens and the other some apple cider. So Mr. Fox along with his partner-in-crime head off on some late night adventures to steal some chickens. Naturally the farmers don’t take kindly to their stock being stolen and set out to get rid of the family by, simply enough, blowing up their tree. Add to this the somewhat eccentric visiting cousin, Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson) and there’s enough going to make one’s head spin.
I simply love the films by Wes Anderson that include Bottle Rocket, The Life Aqauatic and Rushmore – and one of my all-time favorites The Royal Tenenbaums so I was curious to see what he’d do with a stop motion film based on a children’s book. As it turns out, the subject matter, though interesting, was a perfect choice for Anderson’s witty type of humor. As per usual, he’s assembled his cast with some of Hollywood’s “A” listers including Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and George Clooney to name a few. The film is enjoyable for adults as it is children and let me assure you there’s not a “cuss” word in the film (that will take on some additional meaning once you’ve seen the movie). Truthfully this has something for everyone and I found it to be one of the few movies that really lives up to the hype. Highly recommended.
Video: How’s it look?
Fantastic Mr. Fox looked good on Blu-ray when Fox released it a few years ago. Criterion’s presentation seems to look just a tad bit better than the initial Blu-ray release, however. The 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer is a somewhat different viewing experience as we see the hair on the foxes change and appear to “move” or “breathe”, but apart from that, the image quality is beautiful. There are lots of earthy shots because, well, the family lives in a tree and a majority of the film takes place underground. Reds and browns tend to dominate the transfer and the auburn texture of the foxes gives off a radiant glow. I found no edge enhancement, colors to be very bright and bold and the lack of any sort of artifacting made this a sheer pleasure to watch. As someone who’s at a loss for adjectives I guess I’ll have to be unoriginal and say that the image quality is…fantastic.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This appears to be the same DTS HD Master Audio mix found on the previous Fox Blu-ray, I could be mistaken but listening to both in selected scenes seemed to be nearly identical. In movies like this (as well as animation of the traditional sort), you tend to concentrate on the vocals a bit more and try to place the actor. Some were easy like George Clooney or Owen Wilson, and some not so much like Bill Murray. But the soundtrack is robust and as per usual, Wes Anderson’s assembled a rather offbeat score that runs throughout the duration of the film. LFE are present, but only in passing and surrounds do kick in as well, but the meat of the movie takes place in the front stage. It’s a nice-sounding track that delivers on all levels.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Fox’s previous Blu-ray contained a few supplements, but as per usual Criterion has knocked it out of the park. Sit back, relax, and we’ll cover every supplement found in this set.
Audio Commentary – Director Wes Anderson delivers another insightful and informative commentary. His passion for the work is clear and though some of the material is repeated on some of the other features, it doesn’t detract from the overall satisfaction of the track. It’s well worth a listen.
Introduction – In character, Jarvis Cocker (as “Petey”) gives us an overview of the film.
Animatic – A 3 minute animatic in crude form complete with “Davy Crockett” music.
The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox – Broken down into seven shorter features, listed below.
Recording the Voices – Starting with the first recording session in October 2007 as we see Clooney and the gang on a farm, starting the process.
Puppet Tests/Early Animation – As the title suggests, we get plenty of views (sometimes the screen has 6 at a time) of the main characters in some very crude stop-motion animation.
References for the Art Department – We get a look at some of the furniture and props that were used in the film. Look closely and you’ll see Dahl’s coffee mug.
A Visit to the Studio – This starts off with a bang, literally. We see the puppet studio where the figures are being painted, primed and even getting their tiny little joints working. The amount of work that goes into this is simply amazing.
Time-Lapse Photography – A scene that literally took 5 weeks to animate, a long scrolling shot that shoes the main characters in the movie. As the feature progresses, we see the transformation of the scene and the animators as the days progress. Again, simply stunning.
Music – Some “home video” footage of the children’s choir from the London Oratory School as they provide the music for the film.
Miniature Objects – Photographed by Ray Lewis, we see some of the tiny devices used in the film ranging from motorcycles, to musical instruments.
Roald Dahl reads Fantastic Mr. Fox – As the title suggests, the author of the book reads it aloud. Each chapter is presented and is shown with a still image in the background.
Acceptance Speech – A stop-motion version of an acceptance speech accepting an award from the National Board of Review.
Potential Victory Speech – Had the film won the Oscar for Best Animated Film (it lost to Up), we’d have seen this as the acceptance speech.
Press Statement – Again, in stop-motion, we’re treated to George Clooney’s “Mr. Fox” as he accepts the nomination for Best Animated Film.
Set Photography by Ray Lewis – Using the remote, you can work your way through a series of photographs of characters in the film, they range from very crude and unpainted to the finished product.
Publicity Featurettes – Divided into six different segments, listed below.
Roald Dahl – Anderson and Dahl’s wife describe the landscape and setting for the film, Gypsy House.
Adaptation – Some history on the story itself and the development of making this one act into a full-length film.
Puppet Makers – A look at the people who make the puppets that were used in the film, set into different phases from drawing the characters, using real animals as sources and finally the end result.
The Cast – Anderson discusses assembling the cast and given the nature of the novel (it’s English), but they justify casting Clooney, Streep and so forth. Dahl’s widow concurs: “It’s perfect.”
Designing the World – The transition from bringing Dahl’s book to the screen and the influences of his house and the geography that made it into the film.
Bill and Badger – Bill Murray, who played the Badger in the film, gets a look at his character up close and personal and gives his input as to how he shaped his character.
Sony Robots Commercial – I really have no idea why this is included other than it’s a stop-motion based commercial for some of Sony’s Xperia products.
Discussion and Analysis – Two long time film critics: Jake Ryan and Jeremy Logan, give their input on the film.
Fantastic Mr. Dahl – The hour long documentary that was found on the Fox disc has made its way here. Essentially everything you needed and/or wanted to know about the author is found here. A very interesting documentary.
Witch’s Tree – Roald Dahl gives us a history of the famous tree, his inspiration for the Fox family that lived under it and the like.
Dahl’s Manuscripts – A selection of pages from the first manuscript (circa 1968) of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and also included are two letters between Dahl and editor Fabio Coen. Like the photo gallery, you can navigate using your remote.
Illustrated Booklet – An illustrated booklet with shots from the movie, character information and everything in between.
DVD Copy – In addition to the Blu-ray, a two disc standard DVD set is also included.