For years and years, fans of The Criterion Collection had been anxiously anticipating what would be the first animated feature film to grace their line of DVDs and Blu-rays. And now, as they begin there new run of dual format home video releases, the wait for the first animated film to get that almighty “C” seal of approval is none other than the first animated film from one of Criterion’s most beloved filmmakers.
And it’s also arguably his best film in general.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first animated feature from beloved auteur and Criterion Collection bunk-buddy Wes Anderson, and based on the story of the same name from Roald Dahl, the film tells the tale of the titular Mr. Fox, a former chicken snatcher turned newspaperman. We are introduced to this lively fox as he and his wife, Felicity, are setting up to rob a nearby squab farm. However, when the heist goes south, Felicity reveals that she is pregnant and asks her lovely husband to please find a different line of work. Launching us forward 12 fox years (two in human time), we discover that while he and his family are admittedly lower in the class system, Mr. Fox is happily married with a young son who doesn’t seem quite of his father’s ilk. With a growing family to support, a new house and a job that seems to be sending him nowhere, Foxy teams with his building’s super, an opossum named Kylie, to steal things from three of the meanest, ugliest, nastiest farmers the planet could offer. Boggis, Bunce and Bean are the marks here, and when things go south, it’s Fox’s job to save the citizens of the town that these farmers inhabit, a kidnapped nephew and his marriage in what is one of director Wes Anderson’s most stylistic and in many ways personal films to date.
On first glance, an animated adaptation of a Roald Dahl story would seem like an odd fit for a director of live action pictures like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, however, when one digs deeper and deeper into what a rich text this narrative truly is, you discover that it is as fitting a film for Anderson to helm as there could possibly be. First, thematically, it fits right in the vicinity of Anderon’s previous pictures. Sans much of the darkness that is synonymous with writer Dahl’s pieces, Anderson’s film is a much more intimate and in many ways grounded film looking into the attempt at redemption had by one man with his family, and marriage, firmly on the line. Turning this film into an oddly entrancing meditation on the importance of individuality and cultural acceptance, as well as an interesting character study about a man dealing with, in many ways, addiction, Anderson’s film takes out much of the violence and terror found in Dahl’s original, bringing to it similar themes found in the previously mentioned Anderson pictures. With a script that feels written with the same cadence as a Tenenbaums, not only do these pictures all share similar looks at group and familial relationships but they share a similar lingual aesthetic and cadence which is entirely Andersonian.
And aesthetically, this is a prototypical Anderson picture as well. Markedly tactile down to the animal fur they used for the puppets and the material used to make the character costumes (which, at least in Fox’s case, was made with actual material from clothes owned by Wes Anderson), the film, as put perfectly by The Wes Anderson Collection author Matt Zoller Seitz, feels very much like a film from the eye of a cinematic “collector.” With a dollhouse like camera that features all of the static, perfectly frame-filled shots that make Anderson’s films the pieces of photographic art they truly are, as well as the fluid camera moves that have made Anderson as noticable a true autuer as we have today, Fox may be one of the director’s most definitive works to date. Toss in a soundtrack with anachronistic pop music and some of the most gorgeous photography you’ll find in an Anderson film, and you have one of the director’s most intriguing and singular pieces of work yet. Oh, and did I mention the animation is above reproach? Because it’s as evocative a stop motion animated film as we’ve seen in ages.
Performances here are also top notch. George Clooney stars as Fox, a perfect fit for the charismatic A-lister. His seductive yet charming voice fits this character perfectly, as does Meryl Streep in the role of his wife. The two really mesh well together, and prove that the best thing about both of them is truly their use of their voices. Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson are all here giving interesting supporting turns, particularly Schwartzman in what may be the best use of his inherent energy to date. Toss in names like Michael Gambon and even a small role for Jarvis Cocker, and you have a collection of voice actors finding the uncanny ability to bring to life these characters with an ease and an air rarely seen in animated cinema.
And as Criterion’s first animated DVD/Blu-ray, this is a behemoth. A definitive transfer is featured here, with the Blu-ray bringing to life every hair on each puppet and every cloth in the clothes they wear. A deliciously entertaining commentary with Wes Andereson is featured as well, along with storyboards for the full film, various interviews with the cast and crew, a collection of features looking at the making of the film from the voice recording to the recording of the score, and even a gallery of Dahl’s original manuscripts. There is a recording of Dahl reading his book, various looks at the puppets and the puppet animation, and even a cute discussion of the film with two very special scholars. Toss in a documentary about the man behind the book, and you have one of Criterion’s best releases so far this year, and the definitive look at Wes Anderson’s masterpiece.