Blu-Ray Review: ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is Sure to Delight Adults of All Ages

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CHICAGO – It’s taken me longer than most film buffs to warm up to the cinema of Wes Anderson. He’s a designer at heart, and his obsessive eye for intricate visual detail makes the medium of animation an ideal one for him to inhabit. With an army of stop-motion wizards at his command, he has finally come into his own. And unlike Tim Burton, whose “Nightmare Before Christmas” was directed by Henry Selick, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is wholly the vision of one singular artist.

Anderson doesn’t even attempt to make his trademark style any more accessible to a young audience, despite the fact that he’s adapting a classic novel by Roald Dahl (who was far more than a children’s author). This may be the the first adaptation of Dahl’s work that doesn’t feel the need to use fish-eye lenses in order to exaggerate the eccentricity of his characters. Anderson inhabits Dahl’s heightened world much like how he would a Cinecittà set. The plot outline may be Dahl’s, but the story is purely Anderson’s.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

The titular protagonist, Mr. Fox (vibrantly voiced by George Clooney), tries to be a fantastic father and husband, but he’s a wild animal at heart. He can’t help himself from getting into all sorts of mischief that ultimately puts the lives of his loved ones at risk. He also seems oblivious to the way he discourages his son, Ash (a hilarious Jason Schwartzman), by favoring his more athletically gifted cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson). This dysfunctional father/son dynamic is a classic trope of Anderson’s work, and Mr. Fox is in the typical Andersonian mold of a man grappling with a midlife crisis. Yet he’s closer in spirit to the indefatigable Royal Tenenbaum than the despondent Steve Zissou, and his wily spirit gives the story a momentum few Anderson pictures have possessed (at least since “Rushmore”).

George Clooney voices Roald Dahl’s wily titular hero in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
George Clooney voices Roald Dahl’s wily titular hero in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

The biggest laughs come not from obvious punch-lines (as in most kid’s pictures), but from visual gags tucked in the corner of the screen or throwaway quips uttered under the breath. Perhaps the only family friendly thing Anderson does is replace every cuss word in his script (co-authored by Noah Baumbach) with the word “cuss,” resulting in lines like “What a cluster-cuss!” and “Oh my cuss!” Most of the sophisticated humor will fly directly over the heads of the G-rated crowd, but for older kids and adults, this film is a total charmer.

Anderson’s carefully structured compositions have never looked more rich and alive than they do in the realm of animation. His camera achieves a newfound freedom, as it effortlessly glides through endless rooms or tracks characters as they dig labyrinthine holes in the ground. Alexandre Desplat’s enchanting score is accompanied by several toe-tapping songs, including one original tune sung by Jarvis Cocker. As always, Anderson’s song choices are as surprising as his film homages; one character quotes “Rebel Without a Cause,” while Mr. Fox borrows Hawkeye Pierce’s trademark “whistle with the clicking sound.” And though the melancholy charm of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has always been an influence on Anderson’s cinema, it’s especially apparent here, particularly when the characters dance in place.

Fantastic Mr. Fox was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on March 23rd, 2010.
Fantastic Mr. Fox was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on March 23rd, 2010.
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, Spanish, French and Portuguese audio tracks, and includes both a DVD and digital copy of the film. The extras are standard studio-made featurettes, rather than the sort of intimate nuggets available on Criterion editions of Anderson’s work. Yet there’s much to appreciate in the six-part, 45-minute documentary, “Making Mr. Fox Fantastic,” which offers a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage, detailing the monumental technical and stylistic challenges facing the animators.

Production designer Nelson Lowry admits that Anderson’s “unique, dry, slightly adult vision” wasn’t exactly “stop-motion friendly.” The director had such specific instructions for every movement that he often sent animators videotapes of himself playing the characters. Anderson’s approach to working with voice actors was similar to that of Spike Jonze on “Where the Wild Things Are;” he’d often record them together in natural landscapes (such as a farm) in order to elicit naturalistic chemistry. An awe-struck Bill Murray conducts amusing interviews with animators about their various feats, such as turning soap and cellophane into fire and water. The disc’s additional all-too-brief featurettes are “A Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat” and “The World of Roald Dahl.”

Though Anderson insists that he modeled his lead character after Dahl, it’s clear that Mr. Fox is every bit as much a representation of the director himself, particularly when the lanky hero reflects on his innate need to make everyone think he’s fantastic. Such a need may have been embedded in Anderson ever since he was labeled, “The Next Martin Scorsese” by Scorsese himself. At age 40, Anderson has realized his artistic limitations and learned how to flourish within them. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is guaranteed to make a believer even out of moviegoers skeptical about his previous work. He may not be “The Next Martin Scorsese,” but he’s certainly “The Next Wes Anderson,” and that is fantastic enough.

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and stars George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Chase Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson. It was written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach and directed by Wes Anderson. It was released on March 23rd, 2010. It is rated PG.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

By MATT FAGERHOLM
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
matt@hollywoodchicago.com

Anonymous's picture

Anderson

I feel Anderson is most represented in the film by Mr. Fox’s son, a pouty, passive-aggressive child still trying to impress his father; and now we the audience fill in for his father. This should be Anderson’s defining film for that reason — at least at this stage. And it’s time ofr him to grow up before he appears stunted.

PS, the doll manufacturers for this film need better detail in their eye color; in closeups, you can see the printer dots.

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