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Blu-ray Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Using Roald Dahl's 1970 children's novel as the second act, Wes Anderson, along with co-writer Noah Baumbach, expands the story of the thieving Mr. Fox and his victims, the farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, to once again create a whimsical tale about a quirky family (or is that quirky tale about a whimsical family?) coming together in this marvelous stop-motion feature.

Fox (George Clooney) gave up his thieving ways at the request of his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) when she announced she was pregnant with their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman). Fox takes a job at the newspaper but after two human years he has a midlife crisis. He tires of living in a hole in the ground and against the advice of his attorney Badger (Bill Murray) purchases a home in a tree that overlooks the three tempting farms. With the help of an opossum named Kylie (Wallace Wolodarsky), the tree's maintenance man, Fox gets back in the game.

While distracted with his plans, Fox ignores his son Ash, who constantly seeks his father's approval. Ash struggles in school. He is picked on by a bully and lives in Fox's athletic shadow. Life grows even more difficult when his cousin Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) moves in and turns out to be better at Ash in everything, including receiving attention and accolades from Fox.

The farmers are tired of Fox's antics and try to kill him. Fox stays one step ahead, but the damage to the area affects all the woodland creatures. The two sides battle back and forth. Fox and his team steal from the farmers to feed the animals; the farmers flood animals out by pumping cider into the ground. As they work together, Ash grows closer to his father and cousin.

Fantastic Mr. Fox succeeds first and foremost because of Wes Anderson. His direction is very clever and visually engaging. He makes inspired choices from seeing Fox break into a farm through security cameras, to showing the animals' skeletons when they get electrocuted and the nearly POV shot of a rabid dog in pursuit. The script is very witty, with the situations and dialogue likely having more appeal to adults than children. The entire cast is top notch and their performances give the characters rich personality. Anderson made the very wise decision to record many of the actors in different locations on a farm that resemble the stop-motion sets to create more authentic ambiance.  It's too bad animation directors get little recognition for their work, because Anderson deserves many accolades.

"Fantastic" is the perfect way to describe the video and all the hard work is clearly evident. The film is presented with an MPEG-4/AVC encoded transfer and in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Almost all the colors of the rainbow are used, blues and greens are limited to help give a sense that the season is fall, and they are brilliantly vivid. Blacks are rich and inky. There's great contrast on display and this Blu-ray sets the standard for shadow delineation, not losing anything in the darkness. Every detail is amazingly rendered no matter whether it's the hair on every creature, the fabric of every piece of clothing, or the texture of the sets. The materials used to create smoke and water are particularly nice touches. Three-dimensionality is evident helps bring the scenes to life. It's one of the best-looking Blu-rays.

Most of the sounds of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio come out the fronts. It is not a very immersive experience with mild surround for the ambiance of occasional effects, like a cave in, and the songs and score of the music soundtrack. Dialogue is clear and realistic as mentioned above, and directionality occurs with off-screen speakers. The audio adequately accomplishes its task, but the video is done so well that it increases the expectations, and will likely leave the viewer mildly disappointed.

"Making Mr. Fox Fantastic" (45 min) is a six-part making-of featurette that can be watched altogether or separately. The sections are "The Look of Fantastic Mr. Fox," "From Script to Screen," "The Puppet Makers," "Still Life (Puppet Animation)," "The Cast," and "Bill and His Badger." It is very intriguing to see how Anderson brought his own ideas and approaches to the animation process and how they contributed to creating such a unique film.

There are also two forgettable features included. "A Beginner's Guide to Whack-Bat" (1 min) is an informational short explaining how the game is played. The image is marred to make it look aged. It's too short to be of much interest, especially because footage from the film is used. "Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl" (3 min) is an all-too-brief look at the author, who deserved something more in-depth.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a very charming and inventive film. There are plenty of animated antics to discover on repeat viewings. The video is so good, it could persuade people to upgrade, even though audio won't wow anyone and the features are slight. The Blu-ray comes with a DVD and Digital Copy, but make sure you buy a copy as opposed to Fox's method of obtaining one.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS