“Boggis, and Bunce and Bean. One fat, one short, and one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were none the less equally mean.”
Roald Dahl was one of the more eccentric writers to come upon the scene. While he often wrote for children, his work is most decidedly dark and often quite sinister. He’s most known for such tales as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. His work has not been adapted to film as often as you might suspect given his popularity. The most famous was certainly Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, which was far brighter and more cheerful than the original work. It took Tim Burton and his trademark brand of darkness to create the story Dahl intended in a more recent film which used the correct title of the work. This is not the first stop motion film to be adapted from his stories. Quite a few years ago we were given James And The Giant Peach, which enjoyed little box office acclaim. Wes Anderson is obviously a Dahl fan and immersed himself in the author’s world as he prepared his screenplay for Fantastic Mr. Fox. The effort shows in the way Anderson captures Dahl’s pointed wit and social sarcasm. I think that if you’re looking for something Dahl himself might have created, this is your movie.
“Your tractors uprooted my tree. Your posse hunted down my family. Your gunmen kidnapped my nephew. Your rat insulted my wife. And, you shot off my tail. I’m not leaving here without that necktie.”
Mr. Fox (Clooney) is a bird thief. It’s what he’s always been good at. When he gets caught in a trap with his young pregnant wife (Streep), he swears to give up his life of crime if they manage to escape. It’s two years later, and obviously the couple managed to slip the trap. They now have a son Ash (Scwartzman) who is having a hard time living up to his father’s athletic image at school. They have a nice little family life, but Fox is getting restless. He’s now a column writer for the local paper, but he doesn’t make as good a living as he did as a bird thief. He doesn’t want to live in a hole in the ground anymore. So, he decides to look for a better place, and finds it in a wonderful treehouse. However, his attorney Mr. Beaver (Murray) advises him not to move there because there are three farms nearby that will offer too much of a temptation for Fox to return to his life of crime. Beaver tries to tell him that these three farms are too tight to break into, so it will only lead to his demise. Unfortunately, Fox takes that as a challenge. With the help of his nephew Kristofferson (Anderson) he puts together a master plan to break into the three farms on three consecutive nights. He tries to keep it from Mrs. Fox, who won’t be happy if she finds out. The raids are a complete success, and Fox gets away with the goods each time. But the three farmers aren’t going to take the theft lying down. Before long they are demolishing the tree and all of the land surrounding it. The entire family, and all of their woodland friends, are now running for their lives. It’s a matter of honor, and Fox has to find a way out of the jam and save his family and friends. It’s war, and someone’s gonna have to take a fall.
You really have to admire the craftsmanship when you watch this film. The attention to detail is quite impressive. Technology that started with such greats as Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen have come along way. Today we have better materials. Frames are captured with computers so that it is now possible to play back your work instantly. That saves a tremendous amount of wasted effort. In Harryhausen’s day, you needed to wait until film was developed to check out your progress. The smallest mistake destroyed everything that came after. So, it should not be surprising that the stop motion of modern artists like Anderson and Burton look a lot better than the old masters. They have far better tools to work with. The movie is a wonderful tribute to that almost forgotten art.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 23 mbps. The high definition image looks quite impressive. At first the film’s style feels a little odd, but you quickly adapt and begin to settle yourself into the story at hand. The detail allows you to really appreciate the artistry that went into this thing. Skilled artists created all of the set props and dressings by hand. The miniatures were carefully painted and constructed to amazing levels of intricate designs. This transfer and release give you an absolutely stunning look at that craftsmanship. Impressive also are the textures of the film. The puppets have quite accurate looking hair that stands out quite well in this presentation. You can actually see the individual strands that get mussed and moved by the hands of the animators as they adjusted the puppets for the 12 positions required for each second of film. Colors are a bit unusual, but totally intentional. The colorscape is completely devoid of greens and blues. Yellows and orange hues dominate the screen, and it comes through exactly as intended. It’s just enough style to bring alive the fact that this is indeed a fantasy world, no matter how realistic in certain aspects.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio is not quite as impressive here, although dialog has a richness that I wasn’t expecting. When you consider that the dialog was recorded under less than perfect conditions, it actually sounds so much cleaner than I often get from these animated features. The outside environments likely helped with the wonderful sense of placement the sound enjoys. That much I would have expected. I would not have expected the tone to be so rich and full. The music is bright and crystal clear, except for one pirate-sounding tune that I just could not make out the lyrics to.
This is a three disc release. You get the film and extras on a Blu-ray disc. There is a standard DVD version and a digital copy of the film.
All of the extras are presented in HD.
Making Mr. Fox Fantastic: (44:48) This feature is actually a collection of 6 shorter features that cover pretty much all of the aspects of the production. Participants include Roald Dahl’s widow, who gives us some wonderful memories of the writer and related her experience working with Wes Anderson to bring the film to life. There’s plenty of footage of the wonderful artists as they create the beautifully detailed props and sets for the production. You get to see the full-size sets and watch some of the stop motion work being done. Of course, there’s some footage of the voice cast. The recordings were handled in an organic and unusual way here. The actors were brought out to Dahl’s old farm and acted out most of the scenes while their voices were being recorded. The notable exception to that process was Meryl Streep, who, for some reason, performed her part in the traditional studio recording booth environment.
A Beginner’s Guide To Whack-Bat: (1:12) Silly instructional video on the cricket-style game played by the woodland characters.
The World Of Roald Dahl: (3:00) A tour of his famed Gypsy House and surroundings.
I have a soft spot in my heart for stop motion animation. This project utilizes computer generated elements as well, and I rather liked the blend. It really was a touch disturbing at first, but before long I was able to completely buy into this world. It’s all very fresh and innovative, with just the right odd angle to it that makes it such a sideways world. That’s quite appropriate for Roald Dahl, who had a certain surreal aspect to the worlds he created. It’s a little more of an adult film than most in this style, but it is child-friendly enough. Don’t mistake it for a kiddie show. It’s most certainly not. This is where I end with some kind of quote from the material I’m reviewing. I’ve recently been asked why I do that. “What do you mean? That’s my trademark.”