Seconds after Fantastic Mr. Fox begins, the imprint of Wes Anderson is impossible to miss and an instant joy to behold.
It’s not just that the director’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic features a main character who vaguely resembles him, or that everything it is at once precious and touching, witty and whimsical. The difference between Mr. Fox and many of Anderson’s previous movies is that it’s not too precious. The marriage of his distinct sensibility and the movie’s stop-motion, animated medium -- a first for Anderson -- brings out the best in both.
Dahl’s story also lends itself to Anderson’s quirky style and impish demeanor. The book features the adventures of the titular Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), a spry little guy with a mischievous side that ultimately endangers him, his family and their entire community, from badgers to skunks. After stealing treats like cider and chickens from three farmers (whose politics would PETA members cry), the axis of evil comes after him with everything from guns to bulldozers, destroying the land and all the animal homes in it in their quest for revenge. Rallying his neighbors to fight back, our hero eventually outsmarts them because he’s smart like -- yes, a fox.
Anderson’s take on the story is all the more endearing because of some of the very human foibles with which he imbues his little puppet-animal cast. Mr. Fox’s dangerous antics don’t sit well with Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep), and after some significant marital spats, they tenderly talk it out, kiss and make up. The Foxes’ son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) is another Andersonian touch, full of teen rage and vigor but bearing the sadness of a kid who doesn’t fit in. Fantastic Mr. Fox is bursting at the seams with such flourishes, begging to be savored for all its delectable details.
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The fact that the film bears Anderson’s fingerprints so clearly is no accident. The DVD edition, which arrives Tuesday, March 23, reveals that Anderson in fact did have his hands everywhere, down to acting out each part and sending his video montages to the animators before they even got started. In a DVD segment called “From Script to Screen,” crew members from a producer to the animation director agree that making the film was an all-hands affair to create Anderson’s “specific ideas” of what the movie would be like. His ideas were specific down to effects like how the animal fur moved (hint: sometimes animators would simply blow on it).
While the extra segments on the DVD are especially geared for film nerds and Anderson’s number one fans, it’s tough not to get into the geek-tastic details about how they filmed their pretend little animal world, and what it’s like for 21st century filmmakers to make a film that’s meant to look old-fashioned. Topping off the trio of meaty extras and reinforcing the old-school feel is a clip entitled “Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat,” which refers to a game in the story that makes no sense whatsoever. Yet, made to look like an old-school film reel and featuring a voice that sounds like that of mid-century public service announcements, it’s a fitting end for Anderson’s exercise in making the adorable spring to life and bring a little cheer -- and a big dose of charm -- to our mundane days in the big, human world.