I know this is absolute heresy for a guy in my line of work, but I’ve never been a big fan of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking. There’s a difference between developing real, honest characters with believable flaws and simply loading up the screen with quirk for quirk’s sake, and I think Anderson too often falls back on the latter. He’s the kind of guy who can’t just have someone enter the room — they have to enter wearing a vintage tracksuit, sporting a mysterious sore or messed-up hair or, I don’t know, walking a mink on a leash. After awhile, his characters start to feel less like people and more like elaborate constructions made almost entirely from idiosyncrasies. It’s…off-putting.
But I think this has its roots in the fact that Anderson is a boundlessly creative guy who can’t resist putting his stamp on every facet of his films, and most people are willing to look past his flaws simply because he’s a talented storyteller. He was, in other words, the perfect person to bring Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox to the screen.
Filmed in stunningly detailed stop-motion animation and voiced by a typically diverse cast that included George Clooney and Meryl Streep as well as perennial Anderson favorites Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Eric Chase Anderson, Fox is the kind of movie that whispers “labor of love” with every frame. Like Anderson’s other films, it has a very distinctive look (the color palette is devoid of blues and greens, creating an on-screen world that glows with warmth) and feel — and yes, the characters tend to have their little quirks. But here, none of those little added touches feel superfluous; rather, they come across as part of a painstaking effort to immerse the viewer in a wonderfully distinctive place and time. And it works.
It’s animated and family-friendly, so it was marketed as a kids’ film, but if you’ve read any of Dahl’s books, you know Fantastic Mr. Fox falls into the same camp as Where the Wild Things Are — he was a children’s author, yes, but one who didn’t flinch from the tough stuff, and his audience loved him all the more for it. Fox is no different. This isn’t to say any of it’s inappropriate for children, most of whom will simply enjoy the dashing, humorous adventures of a pack of talking animals in their quest to humiliate a trio of hateful farmers. But Fox‘s real themes, like the choices we’re forced to make as we enter adulthood and the unforeseen side effects of getting what you wish for, will be lost on younger viewers — they’re there for the grown-ups, like the classic late ’60s/early ’70s Beach Boys and Rolling Stones songs on the soundtrack.
For all the hard work that went into the film, it might feel a little slight, but that isn’t your problem — Fantastic Mr. Fox is sweet, instantly enjoyable entertainment for the whole family, and for animation aficionados, it’s also the kind of movie you can easily get lost in, returning to scenes repeatedly just to absorb all the small details. It has an enjoyably anachronistic feel, with real materials like hair and cotton providing a depth that CG animation will never be able to match, and yet it’s no mere throwback. Timeless Mr. Fox doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it’s just as appropriate.
On Blu-ray, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a visual delight, with all the texture and fine detail that Anderson’s team labored over solidly on display. Once upon a time, you looked to movies of giant spectacle to show off your home theater system, but in high-def, I submit that a film like Fantastic is more impressive than, say, Roland Emmerich’s 2012. The soundtrack, in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, is also well done, albeit far more subtly than the visual side of the movie. The special features might be a little skimpy for some, but they’re more consistently entertaining than most — you get roughly 45 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage detailing just how much care went into the movie, much of it focusing on the hard work of Anderson’s team of animators, as well as an idea of how meticulously Anderson tried to recreate Dahl’s world, even going so far as to spend time in the author’s home absorbing details he could use for the film. Really, it’ll make you want to go back and watch the movie again, and that’s about all you can ask from bonus content, isn’t it?
Fantastic Mr. Fox also includes a DVD/digital copy disc, tucking in a nifty bit of added value for the price (at Amazon, it’s currently selling for just a whisker under $25). About all you could really ask for is a bundled copy of the soundtrack, which you’re probably going to feel compelled to buy after having it rattle around in your brain for a few days after the closing credits roll.