THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, 2009
As I began re-watching Fantastic Mr. Fox for the second time, I tried to convince my wife to watch it with me. “I’m allergic to Wes Anderson,” she said. I tried to explain that this was different from the typical Anderson film because it is animated and based on a Roald Dahl work. As it reached the five-minute mark and she heard Bill Murray’s voice, she said “yes it is! It is just a Wes Anderson movie with animation!” and she was gone. I still think she might enjoy this, as it seems to be one that other Anderson haters embrace. That includes me, to a certain extent.
Among some circles, this is blasphemy, but I am not a huge Wes Anderson fan. I respect him immensely as a filmmaker and acknowledge his creative vision, but his filmmaking mannerisms (or Andersonisms) are a little too organized, calculated, and a departure from reality. I like Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, and I liked The Grand Budapest Hotel. I loved The Royal Tenenbaums when it first came out, but it hasn’t aged well because he has gone back to the well too often.
That said, I cussing adore The Fantastic Mr. Fox! It is a cussing brilliant film, and easily my favorite Anderson.
Oddly enough, even though these are animals, they feel more real than any Tenenbaums, Zissou’s or other Andersonish characters. There’s a little of Mr. Fox in all of us, adventurous, impulsive, occasionally brilliant, and yes, egotistical. His faults can be frustrating and endearing, and that materializes with his marriage to Mrs. Fox, so eloquently voiced by Meryl Streep. Even his child and nephew and their little rivalry and is easily relatable. Most people can put themselves in either the Ash or Kristofferson category, and you can empathize with both. That they are so far apart makes their chemistry and eventual friendship that much more moving. They find that they both have different strengths and weaknesses, which is sort of the point of the entire film. On top of that, I love the wolf scene and how it embodies facing and embracing what we are most afraid of, which often is just as afraid and nervous about us.
That’s not to say that there are not a lot of Andersonisms added to the project. The game of Wackbat and the Owen Wilson quickly narrated instructions while showing an overhead view of the field with complicated, graphical examples that populate and crowd the screen. And yes, he relies on a lot of his stable of actors, such as Murray, Schwartzman, Murray, Wilson, and his brother Eric. If you only listened to the film, it probably wouldn’t sound too different than other Anderson movies. Even though I’m not a fanboy, that’s not a bad thing. Anderson has a lot of talent and a distinctive style, which I found to be a better fit with animation than live action.
Movie Rating: 8.5/10
Special Features: This disc is absolutely loaded with features. There’s an animatic version of the film, which is basically the same voices with storyboards. I’m sure there’s an audience of that, and I thought it was interesting for 10 minutes, but couldn’t re-watch the entire movie this way.
The making-of scenes were vast and fantastic. They range from showing the actors out on a farm doing their voice acting, to seeing the laborious stop motion animation process, to seeing the musical composition. They number more than a dozen little vignettes that are all enjoyable.
One of the coolest features is Dahl reading the original story, which I enjoyed for a short duration. There have been audio tracks like this on other discs. Red River for instance had the full radio play. All are interesting, but you have to keep the DVD in the player on that screen to listen to the audio. It is too bad Criterion doesn’t let you download the file to listen later on a mobile device.
There’s also a terrific audio commentary by Wes Anderson. He talks a lot about the technique and process, but also talks about where he got his vision. I liked when he pointed out where he lifted objects from, whether they were from Dahl’s house or borrowed from other films, such as Truffault’s The Story of Adele H, which Anderson wonders out loud if he can be sued for mentioning. Probably not since it made the cut.
If that’s not enough, there’s also an hour-long documentary about Roald Dahl. I watched the beginning and my interest was peaked, but I will save it for a day.
Because of the extensive special features and the gorgeous digipak case, if you have any appreciation for this film, I’d recommend the Criterion. I consider it among the best that have been released this year.
Criterion Rating: 10/10