THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayIt's not supposed to work out this way. Usually animation directors can successfully cross over into live action, not the other way around. Wes Anderson, whose films are unusual and whose characters seem self-indulgent, seems like the last person on earth to write and direct a stop motion feature. Yet he's done it and what a nice surprise it is.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is now available on Blu-ray.
I've only seen two Wes Anderson films, "The Royal Tannenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." Each of those films has its fans and I can see why. The characters are unusual and offbeat. I didn't get into the films as much as I thought I would. I enjoy movies that are off the beaten path. But I thought the characters were a little bit too odd and a little too self absorbed. Anderson seems to make his films from a template of ensemble characters. That's not a bad thing, and that's part of the charm of "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Anderson's quirky direction and clever one-liners work in spades in this film. He's brought Roald Dahl's book to the big screen with as much charm and inventiveness as "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
The previews that came out last year in theaters didn't do the film any justice. Perhaps the marketing department didn't know how to present the film to audiences. Was it a kid's film or more of a movie for adults? It was marketed as a kid's film, and I think that was a mistake. It's clearly something that's aimed at older kids and adults who will understand the humor. The Blu-ray cover is also kid oriented. Now it's not an "adult" stop-motion feature with crude jokes. Everything about the film, except maybe for a minor bits of violence and double entendres, is done in good humor.
Anderson has done well with bringing his sense of humor to a stop-motion feature. His vision is pretty unique by twisting a traditional looking feature just a bit to make it his own. Some of my favorite scenes involve Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his animal friends digging rapidly through the underground to escape certain doom by the humans. Add a delightful score by Alexandre Desplat, the entire film moves at a quick pace.
When I first saw the billing, I was skeptical because I've never been wild about using big name stars to voice animation. I realize it's been going on now for years and more than likely will continue. But in this film, the casting is near perfect. George Clooney is fantastic as Mr. Fox, giving the role a wonderful sense of humor and charm. Meryl Streep isn't on screen too much, but she naturally gives a good performance. Bill Murray isn't on screen too much, but he still gives his ego a ride (though still likable) as Badger. Jason Schwartzman and Eric Chase Anderson are fun, as well. And Willem Dafoe steals his short scenes as Rat.
The stop motion animation here is something to enjoy. It's a style of animation that thankfully hasn't gone the way of the dodo. Computer animation, as much as it can be fluid and remarkable, still doesn't seem to have that human touch. That's not to say that humans don't do most of the work on computer features, because they do. But there is something magical when stop motion puppets are manipulated by human hands. Under Anderson's direction, "Fox" is similar yet different from "Coraline," which was also excellent. When the animals suddenly have "x's" take over their eyes, I was reminded how stop-motion animation could entertain so well.
The Blu-ray picture is spectacular. The hand made aspect of this film shows how the animal's fur occasionally moves. It like that kind of "flaw." It's in perfect detail here. Every frame has excellent color, sharpness and depth, placing us humans into the foxhole.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is everybit as entertaining as the movie. Desplat's score was nicely recorded and mixed and plays back with excellent clarity. The explosions on the soundtrack will rumble the room, but they're not loud enough to scare any kids watching it. Dialogue is very clear.
What a shame this film didn't find a wider audience in theaters, because it really is entertaining and sweet. I hope it finds an audience on home video because it truly deserves one. It's not quite the same type of family movie a six year-old will enjoy or even understand. A lot of the jokes might go over even a 12 year-old's head. For older teens and adults, it's perfectly enjoyable. I've found myself rewatching it to catch some gags I missed before. So if you don't see it, I say, "What the cuss?"
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.