Wes Anderson's brilliance shines in animation too
Loves: Animation, Roald Dahl, the Criterion Collection
Likes: Stop-motion animation, Wes Anderson, most of this cast
Dislikes: The film's darker elements
Hates: The lack of animation in the Criterion Collection
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a reformed chicken thief, having married Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and become father to awkward Ash (Jason Schwartzman), giving up a life of crime to become a newspaper columnist. However, Fox dreams of escaping his fox life, and the lure of a return to burglary is hard to ignore. So it's not long before he's back at it, hiding his heists from his concerned wife, until stealing from Boggis, Bunce and Bean (Michael Gambon,) three of the meanest farmers around, comes back to haunt him and puts his family, friends and neighbors in peril. Having let everyone down, the ever-confident Fox may have his work cut out for him.
Though the film's stars are made of armatures and fur, and the outstanding animation and craftsmanship gives the characters a stunning amount of personality and emotion, it's the actors that give them voice that make the film such a joy. Though many in the cast are members of Anderson's tradition troupe, including Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, and their performances are expectedly terrific, the newcomers carry their weight as well, with Clooney being his usual amazing self, lending his Fox outstanding range, immense confidence and a humanizing sense of humor that practically forces you to root for him. Streep is just what you'd expect, serving to ground the entire production as the family's cornerstone, while Anderson's brother Eric is perfect as Kristofferson, Fox's all-but-perfect nephew. It's so good, you start to think it's an imitation of a star you know, but realize, it's just a job well-done.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is clean and crisp, with the cast's voices coming through strong in the center channel. Though there are some scenes of action, this is mostly a dialogue-driven picture. Even so, you'll catch some moments of dynamic mixing that activate the side and rear speakers, and some occasional involvement in the low end, while the soundtrack, as eclectic a mix as any of Anderson's, receives a boost from the surrounds. A healthy, though somewhat quiet presentation overall.
(Missing from the previous release is the 1:12 Whackball animated short, the three-minute Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl and, oddly, the film's trailer.)
The new stuff kicks off with the freshly-recorded commentary by Anderson, who has not seen the movie in years. Laid-back yet enthusiastic, Anderson has a pile of info to share, including explanations of the techniques used in the film, plenty of praise for the crew, talk of inspiration for many moments, changes from the book and some helpful comparisons between English and American terms. A solid track, though there's some slight dead air on the back end.
New featurettes, titled "The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox," clock in at a total of just over 32 minutes, and offer more insight into the recording of the actors, further examples of early puppet tests, reference materials, more on-set footage, a look at the film's musical recording sessions with Anderson at Abbey Road and time-lapse photos from the production. If there's anything here that's a must see, it's Clooney and company acting out their parts, which is great to watch. All of it though is well-made (the story told in the set visit in particular) and worth your time, especially all the behind-the-scenes animation material and the photos of Dahl's possessions and their miniature versions..
An introduction by Jarvis Cocker as Petey (1:12) is included. This doesn't seem to be new for this release (you can see it being produced in the featurettes) but it's amusing nonetheless for Pulp fans.
If you're curious how the film compares to the book and don't have a copy, you're in luck with an archival recording of "Roald Dahl Reads Fantastic Mr. Fox" (53:23). Presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 over a still photo, your new British grandfather tells you the story of the Fox family chapter by chapter, in one of those real treats only Criterion provides. There's even more Dahl to enjoy in the 1:43 "Witch's Tree," which sees the author telling the origin of Mr. Fox while sitting in the real tree that gave birth to the story, as well as a manual gallery of a Dahl manuscript of Fantastic Mr. Fox, which offers sketches and some correspondence with his editor. Some of it is not ideal for reading, but it's worth a look.
The Dahl party isn't over though, as there's an episode of the BBC program imagine…, featuring a biography of Dahl, including readings of passages from his work by friends and loved ones. Dahl's life was full of pain and strife (some manufactured by himself) and extremely fascinating, as this 61-minute special attests to.
With the Dahl angle covered, it's back to some found elements, like an amusing stop-motion Xperia ad Anderson directed for Sony (1:01), 50 gorgeous set photos by photographer Ray Lewis (in a manual gallery) and a full-length (75 minutes) animatic for the film, featuring rather detailed illustrations which served as the basis for the stop-motion animation, which is a great inclusion for animation fans.
Also included in this set is a "Discussion and Analysis with Two Students of the Film," who are Jake Ryan and Jeremy Logan. If you want to get into the real deal about this film, including important philosophical and ethical questions regarding Mr. Fox, these 11:27 are where you're going to find your answers.
In addition to details about the release, yet another beautiful 34-page booklet features tons of art and photos from the production effort, as well as an article by writer Erica Wagner, Anderson's 2002 New York Times article on Dahl's home and pages from the White Cape comic seen in the movie..
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