20th Century Fox released a fairly impressive Blu-ray of Fantastic Mr. Fox back in 2010. However, Criterion is renowned for producing wonderful looking, and sounding editions packed with special features. This release is no different; I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this release might show up on a few “Best Releases of the Year” lists.
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, Fantastic Mr. Fox is director Wes Anderson’s (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) first foray into full length stop-motion animation. Adapted for the screen by Anderson and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), the first thing that struck me about this film was the look. One of the oldest animation styles available, stop-motion animation tends to make buildings and landscapes look rather picture booky; In the case of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the faces of animals look almost lifelike. Most amazingly, their fur seems so real. Its details like those that serve to draw you into the story from the first frame.
After learning that his wife (voiced by Meryl Streep) is pregnant, former athletic standout and expert chicken thief Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) leaves behind his life of thievery for a job as a mild mannered newspaper columnist. Then, twelve “fox years” later, he is drawn back into his old life. The family moves from their small den to a large tree that overlooks three large neighboring farms. Their son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) is resolutely “different.” He has a hard enough time living in the shadow of his notorious father; so he’s less than thrilled to learn that his beloved cousin Kristofferson (the director’s brother Eric Anderson) will be staying with them for awhile.
Mr. Fox plots a raid on the farms with an opossum named Kylie (voiced by Wallace Wolodarsky). Unfortunately, the act has unexpectedly dangerous repercussions not only for them, but the entire animal kingdom. After raising the ire of the three biggest local farmers–Boggis, Bunce and Bean (the latter voiced by Michael Gambon), Mr. Fox, his family, and the other animals are forced underground. The farmers have every sniper they can find on the hunt for Mr. Fox; forcing him to use every animal instinct he has to avoid certain death. When one of the farmers kidnaps one of his loved ones, it looks like his days are numbered. In order to save them, he’ll have to come out of hiding and face a sad fate.
Anderson does a great job of making us care about the characters. The choice of voice actors is perfect. George Clooney seems born to play Mr. Fox, equal parts roguish and sweet, every word he says is somehow believable. Streep can make even a “suffering wife” voice-over role interesting; I only wish there had been more of her in it. Bill Murray has some memorable moments as the lawyer Badger, and Schwartzman is funny and awkward as Ash. Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson have small but notable roles as a tough talking rat and Ash’s “Whack Bat” coach, respectively.
I mentioned the animation earlier, but there are a few additional things that make it superb. The palette is full of warm autumnal colors that seem to pop off the screen at every turn; Anderson added actual fur to the puppets to give them a more realistic look. And to those who worried that Anderson’s foray into stop-motion animation would mean a change in his filmmaking style—not a chance. The style and pace is pure Wes Anderson, including the soundtrack (which includes everything from “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” to “Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones.)
While I will concede that Fantastic Mr. Fox is a bit slow to get going, and at times a bit too quirky, at the end of the day Anderson has succeed in crafting a film that should appeal to both children and adults. Fantastic Mr. Fox definitely earned a spot on my top ten list of the best films of 2009.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s 1080p transfer is fantastic. The Blu-ray’s clarity serves to exemplify the unique appearance of the animation. There is significant depth throughout, and the texture is top-notch. The image is impressive throughout, showing off the earthy colors and commonly soft palette. Contrast exhibits rich black levels. The grain isn’t too heavy, but makes for a nice filmic appearance.
The 5.1 audio track is rather vigorous, handling all dialogue, effects, and ambient sounds very well. Everything is appropriately separated and crisp throughout. Since this is a Wes Anderson film there’s a vast range of musical pieces from Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” to Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance,” and every song sounds full.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are included: