When Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox came out in November 2009, I said that Anderson had truly outdone himself — and I stand by that. Chock-full of something new to notice with each viewing, Fox will go down as one of the best animated films no one saw. With a tiny box office return — $46 million worldwide against a $40 million budget — hopefully it saw new life when it hit video in 2010. With a surprising lack of extras it was only a matter of time before Criterion managed to get their hands on it — especially since they’ve released the rest of his films, packed with all the cussin’ extras you could dream of in a Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format on February 18.
By now, who doesn’t know the story of the Fantastic Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his battle against farmers Boggis (voiced by Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (voiced by Hugo Guinness), and Bean (voiced by Michael Gambon). Twelve fox years after being forced to give up squab stealing, ‘Foxy’ Fox, his wife Felicity (voiced by Meryl Streep), and their son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) live in a literal hole, while Fox works as a newspaper columnist. After the arrival of his nephew Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson), Fox begins dreaming big — first he buys a new home within a tree near the three farmers’ land against his lawyer Badger’s (voiced by Bill Murray) advice. Thus begins hatching a scheme to steal from the farmers with the help of Kylie Sven Opossum (voiced by Wally Wolodarsky), setting off a string of events that puts all of the local wildlife in danger.
The original Twentieth Century Fox disc was already damn near perfect, could Criterion release a new version merely four years later that could better that presentation? Not really. Framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Fantastic Mr. Fox looks just as fantastic as it already did. I have seen one site that still insists on banding in the vista shots, but it’s amazing what a properly calibrated TV can project. Film grain will never be visible because it simply doesn’t exist. Captured with the HD Nikon D3, Anderson constantly reminds us in his commentary that the film is literally a case of watching still photography come to life. Aliasing is never an issue.
Detail is impeccable, breathing real life into the woodland creatures and all their boiling fur. Blacks are perfect with one scene in particular showing superb shadow delineation when the Fox family is underground. Colors are as robust as they should be and most shots consist of immense depth, allowing for that 3D pop we look for in the best Blu-ray presentations. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track never pushes the limits being as front heavy as it is. However, a few key background noises make directional use of the rear speakers and bass kicks in appropriately. Dialogue is crystal clear and songs are never overbearing.
Now for the best part: the supplements! A brief “Introduction by Petey” kicks things off and runs just 72 seconds. The true highlight however is the Wes Anderson audio commentary recorded last year that is almost funnier than the film itself. Right from the start he mentions that he has no idea whether the film is a Twentieth Century Fox release or a Fox Searchlight, the opening logo is for Twentieth Century which I myself didn’t realize was different. The film was released in theaters under the Fox Searchlight banner. Anderson offers tons of anecdotes about the production, shedding light on every homage and reference packed into every nook and cranny of the film. Whether it’s a helicopter design to his favorite scene, he’s also never shy to admit that he has no idea why he made some of the film’s choices. A true highlight.
Also included is a full “Animatic” version of the film running 75 minutes consisting of storyboards and recorded dialogue. “The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox” runs a combined 32 minutes and is broken down into the following seven segments: 1. Recording the Voices, 2. Puppet Tests/Early Animation, 3. References for Art Department, 4. A Visit to the Studio, 5. Time Lapse Photography, 6. Music, and 7. Miniature Objects. Another highlight is next with “Roald Dahl read Fantastic Mr. Fox” and features the author himself enthusiastically reading his own book which runs for 53 minutes.
“Awards Speeches” are two fully animated pieces celebrating the film’s nominations and wins. Unfortunately, the film was nominated against Pixar’s Up at the Oscars so it only won a Special Achievement Award at the National Board of Review. “Set Photography by Ray Lewis” consists of 50 pictures which can be navigated with your remote arrows. “Publicity Featurettes” is broken up into six sections showing the excruciating detail it took to bring the film to life and runs 31 minutes. The best part is seeing Bill Murray shadowing the production team and Anderson. “Sony Robots Commercial” is a quick one-minute commercial for the Sony Experia. The only explanation to its inclusion has to be that the same production company brought it to life.
“Discussion and Analysis” features two children: Jake Ryan and Jeremy Logan who attempt to discuss and analyze the film but considering they’re two kids, it gets annoying super quick and runs way too long at 11 minutes. “Fantastic Mr. Dahl” is a great television special clocking in just over an hour to celebrate the opening of the Roald Dahl Museum. Clips from television appearances featuring Roald are included. “Witch’s Tree” is a fast 103-second segment featuring Dahl himself discussing how the story came to life. And finally — seeing how the film’s trailer has been omitted — “Dahl’s Manuscripts” is a neat peak at 18 pages of a first draft between Dahl and editor Fabio Coen at Alfred A. Knopf.
As you can see, there are more supplements than you can shake a stick at and the director-approved video should tell you that this will be the definitive version of the film for now. Fantastic Mr. Fox will continue to be one of the best animated films in years, even bettering the last few offerings from Pixar. A double-dip is a no brainer and if you don’t own the film on Blu-ray yet, this is the version to buy which is no surprise when it comes to any Criterion release.
Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Searchlight