Wes Anderson is a polarizing director; people either love of his movies or they don’t, there’s no real in-between. His specialty seems to be exploring the neurotic side of human behavior, crafting a series of films specializing in the dysfunction of groups of people in amusing situations. But none of them have ever been a commercial success, which is why his adapting the children’s novel Fantastic Mr. Fox at first sounds like an attempt by a director who so far has been successful with a niche audience (and film critics) at a film that reaches audiences en masse. But something amusing happened with this film: he put his own signature stamp on a classic tale and crafted one of the year’s best films.
Fantastic Mr. Fox focuses on the tale of the aforementioned Fantastic Mr. Fox (George Clooney), a newspaper columnist of little repute. A reformed chicken thief, who gave it up for his wife (Meryl Streep) on the birth of their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr. Fox is lured back into the game for one last score from three rich (and miserable) men, the lure of one big score is enough to get him back in the game. When it goes horribly awry, Fox finds himself swept up in a war between the rich businessmen and the rest of the animals. And while the story is rather old, Anderson finds a new way to tell it.
Using stop animation as a starter, the film looks radically different then most of the animated films to come out in 2009. While these are wild animals talking, and interacting, Anderson gives them clothing and vocations, not unlike human beings, and gives them their own quirky personalities to boot. Anderson still allows them to act like animals, especially in a ridiculously funny moment where Badger (Bill Murray) and Fox get into a hissing match and bare their teeth before getting back to a normal argument, but he imbues them with a certain level of humanity that makes them significantly more interesting then normal (for animated, talking animals). It bridges that barrier that most animated films can’t in that they become fully realized characters.
Anderson also develops the story by making it one of redemption for Fox, as opposed to a story about a fox who merely outsmarts the three businessmen. He’s a former crook, wanting a better and honest life for his family, and everything he does is for that effect. In many ways this is a crime film, following a venture into a storyline closer to Bob le Flambeur then a true children’s novel, as Anderson takes the story given and gives it a subtext that the story originally doesn’t. It’s a surprising take on a tale that in any other hands could have been perfunctory, or even completely true to Doahl’s book. Anderson has taken the book and given it its own life and its own narrative, a terrific companion piece that keeps true to Doahl’s vision.
It doesn’t hurt that Anderson has an absolutely loaded voice cast to work with. Featuring a handful of Oscar winners, and more nominees, if this were a live action film the cast list would be exceptional. With a voice cast it’s more traditional to be able to bulk up a cast with talent, but this wasn’t one picked via resumes. It was picked for talent and the cast meshes well together. Anderson definitely has picked a cast for its ability to mesh with what he wants to do in front of it.
The more amusing part is that the film has his name attached, but doesn’t quite feel like a Wes Anderson film. But that’s not a bad thing in this case, as Fantastic Mr. Fox is just that: fantastic.
With both the regular and Blu-Ray discs in this set, you get to see the regular version and the Blu-Ray. There isn’t much difference between the two as they both look and sound quite good. The Blu-Ray is a bit of an upgrade, and noticeably better, but isn’t a significant upgrade on the regular DVD.
Since the Blu-Ray package comes with both the Blu-Ray and the regular DVD, the two discs have differing extras:
Making Mr. Fox Fantastic is a rather extensive piece on the creation of the film, from the screenplay to the big screen.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl is a look at the creator of the book that inspired the film.
From Script to Screen focuses on how what’s really a one act children’s story was developed into a full three act story, as Wes Anderson injected his sensibilities into the film to bring out the whole story in it.
Still Life is about the puppet animation used in the film. Anderson wanted it to be done as stop animation after falling in love with it in the original King Kong. Stop animation, according to the crew, was a boon to Anderson because he likes to control every aspect of the film’s look and this allowed him to do so.
A Beginner’s Good to Whack-Bat is a faux-documentary explaining the film’s “game.”
There’s the Trailer for the film, as well as Sneak Peeks for other titles in the Fox library.
While the film is first-rate, there is just enough to whet the appetite in terms of extras but not be completely full at the end.
Fox Searchlight presents Fantastic Mr. Fox. Directed by: Wes Anderson. Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Jarvis Cocker, Willem Dafoe, Eric Chase Anderson, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray. Written by: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach based on the book “Fantastic Mr. Fox” by Roald Dahl. Running time: 87 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: March 23, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.