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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Wes Anderson
Cast:
George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Wallace Wolodarsky, Eric Chase Anderson, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson
Writing Credits:
Roald Dahl (novel), Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach

Tagline:
His life is fantastic ... his wife is fantastic ... his neighbors, not so fantastic.

Synopsis:
George Clooney and Meryl Streep lend their voices to this hilarious and heartwarming animated adventure from visionary director Wes Anderson. Mr. and Mrs. Fox (Clooney and Streep) live a happy home life with their eccentric son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and visiting nephew Kristopherson. That is until Mr. Fox slips into his sneaky, old ways and plots the greatest chicken heist the animal world has ever seen.

Box Office:
Budget
$40 million.
Opening Weekend
$265.900 thousand on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross
$20.980 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 2/18/2014

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Wes Anderson
• Introduction by “Petey”
• Animatic Version of Film
• “The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox” Featurettes
• “ Roald Dahl Reads Fantastic Mr. Fox” Audio Feature
• Awards Speeches
• Set Photography
• Publicity Featurettes
• Sony Robots Commercial
• “Discussion and Analysis” Featurette
• “Fantastic Mr. Dahl” Documentary
• “Witch’s Tree” Featurette
• “Dahl’s Manuscripts” Stillframe Feature
• DVD Version
• Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Fantastic Mr. Fox: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 12, 2014)

Director Wes Anderson adapts Roald Dahl for the world of stop-motion animation via 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) makes his living as a bird thief. When he and his wife (Meryl Streep) get captured and she tells him she’s pregnant, he agrees to take on a less risky career.

We fast-forward 12 fox years to find Mr. Fox as a semi-struggling newspaper columnist with an adolescent son named Ash (Jason Schwartzman). Mr. Fox aspires to a better life outside of their hole, so he moves the family into a tree. He chooses this particular abode largely because it resides in the shadow of some nasty humans named Boggis (Robin Hurlstone), Bunce (Hugo Guinness) and Bean (Michael Gambon). Mr. Fox aspires to relive the excitement of his earlier life, and he recruits his opossum pal Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky) to help. This sets up a war between the animals and the humans.

We also see issues connected to a visit from Fox’s nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Ash is a bit of an odd kid and also small for his age, while Kristofferson is a good athlete and more of a charmer with the ladies. Because of this, Ash becomes resentful of his cousin and conflicts ensue.

I suspect that even if Fox completely stunk, it’d receive praise from a certain faction due to three factors: Anderson, Dahl, and a quirky, challenging form of animation. This is basically animation ala the indie world, for better or for worse.

While I’ve been perfectly happy with mainstream animation, I think Fox creates a nice niche for itself. Does Anderson do anything to make the film significantly different from work other studios could produce? No, not really.

The style of animation is the most unusual factor here, as stop-motion material rarely makes an appearance these days. That’s no surprise, as stop-motion is a difficult, time-consuming medium. I’m not sure this style gives the film any kind of heft or power that would be absent in a more traditional piece of cell or CG animation, but it creates something that stands out from the crowd.

Only one negative comes with stop-motion animation: the style occasionally threatens to distract from the story and characters. At times I paid so much attention to the techniques at work that I almost forgot about the movie itself. That’s not a constant – or even frequent – problem, and it might just be one that only I encounter, but it was a small issue.

The quality of the animation was quite good. The main concern stems from the massive amount of fur on display, as the stop-motion techniques ensure that it moves around a lot. This means that even when a character stands still, his or her hair tends to ruffle and shift. Other objects do the same, but the fur demonstrates the most widespread example of this.

I hesitate to call this an actual problem, though, because apparently Anderson did nothing to fix it. In a prior disc’s documentary, he mentioned that he loved the sight of the shifting fur in the original King Kong, so it’s clear he didn’t want to use any kind of post-production method to change it.

And even though the drifting hair distracts me, I’m fine with that. I understand Anderson’s preference for a more organic feel, even one that shows warts. Too much clean-up might’ve eradicated some of the format’s basic charms.

The story, characters and performances are strong enough to overcome potential technical concerns anyway. At its heart, one could view Fox as an environmental tale since it involves the battle between nature and the humans.

While you could do that, I suspect you shouldn’t, as it’d turn a fun film into something less engaging. I don’t want to say that Fox should be taken as a piece of fluff, but I don’t get the impression it really aspires to a great deal of social commentary. Those elements lurk, but the film fares best when taken as a comedic romp.

And it’s a heck of a good romp at that. The tale starts a little slowly, perhaps because it takes us a while to buy into the stop-motion animation and the film’s universe. Once we do so, though, we find a slew of engaging characters and situations that become more and more dynamic as the movie progresses.

It doesn’t hurt that the flick boasts a world-class cast. Clooney doesn’t exactly break a sweat as the lead character, a furry variation on Danny Ocean. But hey, Cary Grant made a career based on similar roles, so why shouldn’t Clooney continue to do what he does best? He’s perfect as Mr. Fox, and the remainder of the actors – a group that also includes folks like Bill Murray and Owen Wilson – give us fun work as well.

“Fun” seems to be my go-to word in this review, and it’s the one that best describes the charming Fox. Yes, the film has some themes and character depth; it’s not a shallow romp with nothing else to it. But at its heart, it’s just a delightful, gleeful adventure.


The Disc Grades: Picture A/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

The Fantastic Mr. Fox appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. The transfer consistently satisfied.

Sharpness always looked terrific. Virtually no softness appeared, so the flick offered excellent clarity and delineation. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was absent. Source flaws also failed to mar the presentation.

In terms of palette, Fox tended toward an earthy orange tint. This gave the whole movie a bit of a sunset feel, and it fit the material. The colors looked solid given the stylistic choices. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows demonstrated nice smoothness and definition. This was a totally pleasing presentation.

Nothing too exciting came with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Fox, but it seemed fine for the film. Like all Wes Anderson flicks, music played an important part. Both score and songs boasted nice stereo imaging across the front.

Effects were satisfying though not especially involving most of the time. A few of the movie’s action scenes offered decent involvement, but it’s hard to think of anything that stood out. Instead, the film usually stayed with a nice sense of atmosphere and that was about it.

Audio quality was strong. Music worked best, as that side of things seemed lively and full. Speech was consistently natural and concise, while effects appeared clean and accurate. A few louder bits boasted nice low-end response. All of this ended up as a good but not impressive soundtrack.

How did the Criterion release compare to the original 2010 Blu-ray? Audio appeared to be virtually identical, and visuals also seemed to be very similar. I thought the Criterion version was a smidgen better defined, which meant a step up from the earlier disc’s “A-“ to an “A” here. However, this wasn’t a big leap, as the prior version looked terrific as well. Any improvements were minor.

The Criterion Blu-ray comes with exclusive extras, and these open with an audio commentary from director Wes Anderson. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at what inspired him to take on the project, the source novel and its adaptation, story/character areas, cast and performances, influences, animation and technical areas, music, editing, and related topics.

Though he starts slowly – perhaps because he admits he’s not seen the movie in a while – Anderson soon turns this into an engaging look at the film. He combines the technical aspects of the project with the creative elements. This means we learn a lot about the flick and remain involved most of the way.

Billed as an Introduction to the Criterion Collection Edition, we get a one-minute, 12-second chat from movie character “Petey”. Voiced by Jarvis Cocker, the intro acts as a prologue to the movie and has nothing to do with the Criterion package. It feels more like an alternate opening than anything else.

Under Animatic, we find an essentially complete version of the movie in that form. This runs one hour, 15 minutes and nine seconds as it shows the film as a combination of filmed storyboards and audio. I’d probably rather view this as an accompaniment to the film – ie, one we could view alongside the final flick – but it’s still a cool addition.

When we move to The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox, we locate a collection of seven segments. These include “Recording the Voices” (7:44), “Puppet Tests/Early Animation” (3:53), “References for Art Department” (1:31), “A Visit to the Studio” (10:27), “Time-Lapse Photography” (2:23), “Music” (4:54) and “Miniature Objects” (1:16). Across these, we go behind the scenes to observe various aspects of the production. All offer fine glimpses, but “Time-Lapse” and “Recording” work best. I especially like the unusual techniques used in the latter.

An audio-only piece, Roald Dahl Reads Fantastic Mr. Fox. This domain goes for 53 minutes, 23 seconds and offers exactly what the title implies, as we listen to the author read his woek. That makes it a delightful bonus and a valuable part of the release.

Three clips show up under Awards Speeches: “Acceptance Speech” (1:17), “Potential Victory Speech” (1:22) and “Press Statement” (0:27). All of these offer special animated segments for use during award season. “Statement” shows Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) accept the Oscar nomination – and then get annoyed when he finds out it’s in the “cartoon” category.

The other two show Anderson in animated form, with the director transformed into the “Stan Weasel” character he plays in the film. “Acceptance” shows furry stop-motion Wes as he gets the National Board of Review’s “Special Achievement” prize, while “Potential” shows what would have aired if Fox had won the Oscar instead of Up. All are a lot of fun to see.

When we shift to Set Photography, we find a stillframe compilation of Ray Lewis’s work. Across 50 shots, we view the animation elements in their basic form. I like this chance to take a closer look at the components.

Six clips pop up under Publicity Featurettes. We locate “Roald Dahl” (2:49), “Adaptation” (6:52), “Puppet Makers” (8:20), “The Cast” (6:25), “Designing the World” (8:04), and “Bill and Badger” (7:35). Over these, we get notes from Anderson, Roald Dahl’s widow Felicity, producers Allison Abbate and Jeremy Dawson, animation director Mark Gustafson, production designer Nelson Lowry, puppet fabrication supervisor Andy Gent, director of photography Tristan Oliver and actors Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman.

The pieces look at Dahl’s influence on the production, Anderson’s style, story/character areas, cast and performances, creating the puppets and executing the animation, visual design, and general filmmaking notes. I don’t expect much from publicity pieces, but these tend to be good. They give us a nice array of details and prove to offer a lot of useful material.

A Sony Robots Commercial occupies one minute, one second. Why does it appear here? Because Wes Anderson supervised the animated affair. It’s an interesting little promo.

Within Discussion and Analysis, we find an 11-minute, 27-second segment. It features Jake Ryan and Jeremy Logan, “two students of the film”. They also appear to be students at an elementary school, as they’re young kids. While this might be a cute way to chat about a movie, it gets old fast.

Fantastic Mr. Dahl goes for one hour, one minute, and 26 seconds as it offers a documentary about the author. It comes with comments from Felicity Dahl, grandchildren Sophie and Luke, children Theo, Tessa and Ophelia, first wife Patricia Neal, family friend Sonia Austrian, Tessa’s school friend Amanda Conquy Brown, illustrator Quentin Blake, friend Brough Girling, publisher Stephen Roxborough, literary agent Murray Pollinger, therapist Valerie Eaton-Griffiths, paperback publisher Liz Attenborough, and consultant hematologist Sir David Weatherall.

As expected, we learn about Dahl’s life and career, with an emphasis on how the two areas intersected. Normally I prefer the “work” side of shows like this to “family, but “Fantastic” becomes an exception. It gives us a frank view of Dahl’s family and delivers an involving, emotional take on the man.

Under Witch’s Tree, we see a one-minute, 43-second video snippet. In this, Doahl takes us to a location that meant a lot to him and he tells us a little about Fox. While brief, I think “Tree” becomes a nice look behind the scenes.

The Blu-ray finishes with Dahl’s Manuscripts. Here we see a “selection of pages” from Dahl’s original 1968 Fox manuscript; we also find some letters between Dahl and his editor. This stillframe area mixes texts and sketches to become a solid addition to the set. I especially like the letters, as the editor provides story suggestions that Dahl refuses to use, but he rejects them in the nicest possible way. Did he really like the ideas but feel it’d enter plagiarism territory to utilize them – as the letter claims – or did he hate them and kill with kindness to get away from them?

Two other discs provide a DVD copy of Fox. This set includes the same extras as the Blu-ray.

We end with a 32-page booklet. It delivers sketches and production elements along with an essay from writer Erica Wagner, a New York Times article from Wes Anderson, and a look at the White Cape comic book used as a prop in the film. This becomes one of the better Criterion booklets I’ve seen in a while.

A charming piece of animation with an unusual pedigree, The Fantastic Mr. Fox brings the quirky world of Wes Anderson to the Roald Dahl novel. This take succeeds, as the movie offers a delightful take on the material. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals, good audio, and a terrific set of supplements. While the Criterion release doesn’t do a lot to improve the original Blu-ray’s already solid picture and sound, its fine set of bonus materials makes it a must have for fans.

To rate this film visit the original Blu-Ray review of FANTASTIC MR. FOX

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main