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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/23/2010
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/28/2010
In my recent review forPlanet 51, I wrote about how many modern animated films attempt to be geared at both children and adults. That's why there is the inevitable "Fun for the whole family!" blurb from some mystery critic on the TV commercials for these movies. But, try to imagine, if you will, an animated movie that looks like a children's film, but one where it feels as if the filmmakers had no idea that kids would be watching it. That's what we get with Fantastic Mr. Fox, a film which brings back stop-motion animated, and along with it, brings a story a jokes which will sail over the heads of children like a 747.
As Fantastic Mr. Fox opens, we are introduced to Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep), as they are breaking into a farm to steal squab. Due to Mr. Fox's curiosity, they are caught in a trap. It's here that Mrs. Fox reveals that she's pregnant. Mr. Fox promises that if they escape from the trap, he will get a real job and stop stealing birds.
The story then jumps ahead two years. The Foxes live in a hole with their son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), an odd young boy who spits a lot. Mr. Fox writes a column for the local paper. He decides that he doesn't like living in a hole and against the advice of his lawyer, Badger (voiced by Bill Murray), Mr. Fox buys a tree. Around this time, Mrs. Fox's nephew, Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson), comes to live with the family. The Fox's new tree sits adjacent to three farms, owned by Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, the meanest farmers in the valley. Having all of those birds...and cider so close stirs old feelings in Mr. Fox and soon, with the help of an opossum named Kylie (voiced by Wally Wolodarsky), Mr. Fox is up to his old tricks. But, he underestimates the lengths that Boggis, Bunce, and Bean will go to in order to stop him.
With Fantastic Mr. Fox, we get two movies in one. First of all, this is a stop-motion animated film about talking animals. I guess that we could say that this facet of the movie is a family film, and one which children will enjoy -- after all, the movie is based on a book by renowned children's author Roald Dahl. As evidenced by the synopsis above, there is an assortment of animals here and each straddles the line between realistic and cute. At its core, the story is easy to follow: Mr. Fox likes to steal chickens and this makes the farmers angry. We watch the animals evade the farmers. There is also an amount of easy-going slaspstick humor.
But, there is also a whole other movie happening here -- one which children may not (and shouldn't understand). Co-writer/Director Wes Anderson has taken this simple children's story and moved far beyond anthropomorphism. These animals not only take on the characteristics of humans and talk like people, but they have inherited our problems as well. Let me put it this way; when was the last time that you watched an animated film where a character couldn't sleep because they felt that they paid too much for a house? That's the kind of mature material taking place in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox must deal with a mortgage, a pregnant wife, a visiting child (who is visiting because his father is terminally ill), and feeling unfulfilled in his job. It's as if the script for an art-house movie about the suburbs got mixed up with a talking animal film and this was the result. Furthermore, Mr. Fox and his friends use the word "cuss" which is clearly meant to represent profanity. In addition, the farmers smoke, drink, and use guns (liberally).
This description would most likely lead one to believe that this isn't a good family film, but it is. Despite the mature themes involved, the movie is never cheeky or overly inappropriate. Everything here is presented so matter-of-factly that it's difficult to take offense to it. My younger daughter won't hesitate to let us know when a movie is bothering her, and she took this in stride. In short, the movie feels like it's aimed at adults, but it never talks down to kids.
But, enough of my parental guidance rap, is the movie any good. Yes, it is...once you get past the fact that it's a very unique film. The movie does a great job of balancing the aforementioned serous aspects with a wicked sense of humor. There are some great one-liners here which are clever, but never silly. I wouldn't go as far as to say that movie is cerebral, but rarely does it go for the cheap laugh. Mr. Fox has most of the good lines, but each of the main animal characters gets in at least one good one. The vocal cast is also a boost here, most notably Clooney. He imbues Mr. Fox which such a sense of poise and confidence, that it's difficult to dislike him, even when he's doing something foolish.
I can't say that I'm a fan of Wes Anderson's work (although I do admire Rushmore), but he deserves applause for trying something different with Fantastic Mr. Fox. As if stop-motion animation weren't challenging enough, trying to make something which is as much for adults as it is for kids is downright reckless. And the experiment works quite well.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is allergic to linoleum on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image here is simply flawless. I closely examined the picture, and I could see nary a speck of grain. There are no defects from the source material. The colors look great and the image is never too dark or bright. The picture has an amazing amount of depth, which only adds to the pseudo-3D look of stop-motion. The amount of detail is great, and we can clearly see the patterns on things. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio here is very good, as we are treated to detailed stereo effects, which accurately portray off-screen action. The surround sound effects are very good during the action scenes and the music sounds great as well. Where appropriate, we get solid subwoofer effects.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extras. "Making Mr. Fox Fantastic" (45 minutes) is a six-part documentary which covers many facets of the film. This give us a ton of behind-the-scenes footage and takes us onto the set (?) to see the puppets and miniature locations being constructed. In the most interesting part, we follow Bill Murray as he tours the set. There are comments from Roald Dahl's widow, Felicity, and shots of Dahl's home. We also get to see the cast at work on a farm, where they recorded their dialogue. "A Beginner's Guide to Whack-Bat" (2 minutes) is an info-mercial like short which rehashes the whack-bat scene from the film. "Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl" (3 minutes) offers more comments from Felicity Dahl nd examines how Anderson integrated Dahl's life into the character. (Some of this is repeated from the making of.) The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long