Fantastic Mr. Fox (Criterion)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Feb 25, 2014
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Wes Anderson

Release Date(s)

2009 (February 18, 2014)

Studio(s)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (Criterion - Spine #700)

Review

Fantastic Mr. Fox makes its debut on the Criterion label, somewhat much to everyone’s surprise. Not that any of Wes Anderson’s work isn’t worthy of their treatment, but Criterion have almost never issued an animated title on any of their formats. The only other instance of this happening was their 1992 Laserdisc release of Akira. Hopefully this sets up a trend as other classic and not-so classic animated films can finally be given proper distribution (Fantastic Planet leaps to mind).

But that aside, Bill’s review of the original 20th Century Fox Blu-ray release pretty much sums all there is to say about Fantastic Mr. Fox. Like Bill, I too am a fan of Wes Anderson’s (I think I’ve mentioned that once or twice in previous reviews) and I was elated when Criterion announced that they would be picking up Fantastic Mr. Fox for a release. It’s a terrific film, and after watching it again three to four years after its release, the magic is still there. It’s still a delightful film and was sorely robbed of the Best Animated Film Oscar that year. It’s one of those great movies that leaves you wanting more. I would love to see further adventures of Mr. Fox and his family and friends. While that’s a doubtful prospect, Wes Anderson has expressed interest in doing more animated films in the future.  So we can always hope for something just as special. His films are rarely, if ever, misses.

As Bill noted, Fantastic Mr. Fox is likely to be Wes Anderson’s most accessible film throughout his career. It’s a film that can reach and touch people of all ages. And just looking it at from a filmmaking perspective, I find it remarkable that Anderson’s trademark visual style can carry over to an animated process that requires you to slowly shoot 24 frames for every second of film. Even without his name in the credits, you’d know it was his film. Just that alone is an accomplishment to me. Further accomplishments range from the characters, the voice acting, the dialogue and just the adaptation as a whole. Roald Dahl’s magical children’s book has certainly been put on the screen in a modified form, but it never, ever feels that way. And the terrific and heartfelt score by Alexander Desplat is the icing on an otherwise perfect cake. I love and adore Wes Anderson’s body of work, but this is a very special film, for both families and every day adults alike.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release does its video presentation proud with an immensely detailed and well-balanced picture. Comparing both the previous Blu-ray and this new one side by side, I couldn’t find any significant differences between the two, but the Criterion version’s resolution seems just the tiniest bit stronger. Shot in HD, every little fine detail of the characters is full of fine detail, from clothing, to fur, and both backgrounds and foregrounds. You could freeze-frame anywhere you like throughout the film and hang that freeze frame on your wall. Colors are crisp with autumn-oriented swatches and blacks are just as deep as you could ask for. Contrast and brightness never waver, and if there are any unnatural anomalies to report, I couldn’t spot them. This is a pitch-perfect transfer, for sure. The same goes for the film’s soundtrack, which is in English 5.1 DTS-HD. Dialogue is crisp and clear, right at the front of the proceedings, but every little sound effect, bit of score and ambience can be found in the surrounding speakers. Low frequency sounds run very deep when they’re needed, as well. It’s a very immersive presentation.  Subtitles are included in English for those who might need them.

When it comes to the extras, Criterion’s release blows its 20th Century Fox counterpart out of the water. Starting things off is an introduction to the film by Jarvis Cocker as the character of Petey; an audio commentary with Wes Anderson; the storyboard animatic of the entire film; a set of Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox featurettes (Recording the VoicesPuppet Tests/Early AnimationReferences For Art DepartmentA Visit to the StudioTime-Lapse PhotographyMusic and Miniature Objects); an audio recording of author Roald Dahl reading the original book; Awards Speeches given by some of the animated characters from the film (Acceptance SpeechPotential Victory Speech and Press Statement); a gallery of set photographs by Ray Lewis; a set of Publicity Featurettes (Roald DahlAdaptationPuppet MakersThe CastDesigning the World and Bill and Badger); a Stop-Motion Sony Robots Commercial directed by Anderson; a Discussion and Analysis of the film with two children: Jake Ryan and Jeremy Logan (more of a cute joke than anything); a documentary about Dahl and his work entitled Fantastic Mr. DahlWitch’s Tree, a brief segment about the books featuring Dahl; a gallery of Dahl’s original manuscripts; and finally, a 32-page booklet with a new essay by critic Erica Wagner; a 2002 article on Dahl’s Gipsy House by Anderson; the White Cape comic book used as a prop in the film, and pictures of various drawings, paintings and other items used in the film. I’m happy to report that nearly all of the previous featurettes from the 20th Century Fox Blu-ray release have carried over here. The only extras that didn’t carry over were the brief segment A Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat and, oddly enough, the theatrical trailer. I would also have liked to have had a Play All function for both sets of featurettes, but these are minor complaints to be sure. It’s also worth noting that the DVDs that are also featured in this release include all of the same extras.

It’s been a pleasure revisiting Fantastic Mr. Fox with Criterion’s new Blu-ray release. It’s a lovely film that only gets better and better every time you see it. And now that Criterion have acquired the rights to this one, it’s a full-blown conclusion that we’ll see a release of Moonrise Kingdom on their label, as well. But as for Fantastic Mr. Fox, it’s, well, fantastic, and well worth double-dipping for.

- Tim Salmons

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