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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

March 21st, 2010

The Fantastic Mr. Fox - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop motion animated film based on a book by Roald Dahl. This is not the first such film made, as James and the Giant Peach was made more than a decade ago. This film was adapted by Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, with Wes Anderson also directing. Wes Anderson's films tend to have a unique tone, while Roald Dahl's books also have a uniqueness to them. Can the filmmakers find a way to combine these two styles while still appealing to both target demographics? Is that even possible?

George Clooney provides the voice for Mr. Fox, while Meryl Streep plays his wife. In the beginning they are caught stealing squabs. Mrs. Fox says she is pregnant and makes Mr. Fox promise to give up being a thief if they make it out of there alive. Cut to two years later (12 years in fox years) and Mr. Fox is a columnist in a newspaper, living in a hole with his wife and son. However, he's not happy. He hates his hole, because it reminds him that he's poor. He's looking to move up in the world and is looking to purchase a house in a tree. His lawyer advises against this, as the tree is in the most dangerous neighborhood in the country. The danger comes from the three farmers (Walter Boggis, Nathan Bunce, and Franklin Bean) that live in the area and are notoriously mean to the local animal population. However, Mr. Fox doesn't see this as a negative, but rather as a challenge. He's dealing with a bit of a mid-life crisis and he thinks that one last heist will get him out of his slump. Actually, it's a three-part heist, because he can't just rob one of them. And maybe he'll go back for seconds. But when the farmers strike back, he's not only put his life in danger, but also the lives of his family and the lives of the rest of the animals.

This film earned amazing reviews and even grabbed a couple Oscar nominations. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that the film bombed at the box office. After watching the movie, I can see why both these happened.

First of all, it's written by Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, both of whom have an ear for Oscar worthy material, the former earning an Oscar nomination for his script for The Squid and the Whale and the latter doing the same for The Royal Tenebaums. On the other hand, their films tend to be rather talky, dealing with familial dysfunction. The characters tend to be eccentric, but firmly grounded in reality. Roald Dahl has a style of his own that is more in the realm of black humor, with rather more absurdist flair. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, etc. all have a more fantasy approach to them. I don't think the two styles meshed very well in this movie. You get this weird concoction of the two styles, with the Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson approach winning out. You have talking foxes, but ones that discuss philosophical matters.

The best way I can describe it is by referencing the Uncanny Valley. The film is 'off' by enough that its uniqueness will please critics, but this same factor limits its mainstream appeal.

Extras on the DVD are sadly quite limited. There are two "making of" featurettes, one on the adaptation of the script and the other on the stop-motion animation. Both are worth checking out and provide enough information that the disc doesn't seem devoid of extras. There is also a Beginner's Guide to Whack-Bat, which is completely superfluous. It is just 72 seconds long and is nothing more than the clip from the movie that "explains" the game with a new voiceover.

Currently, I do not have the Blu-ray, but I might get one shipped to me on Tuesday. There does appear to be several additional featurettes on the Blu-ray, so assuming there's not a problem with the transfer, it is the better deal.

The Verdict

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is not a kid's movie, although is it based on a kids story and the visual flare of the movie will likely appeal to them. This is a movie that is aimed more at the adult fans of Wes Anderson that enjoy his dialogue-driven dry sense of humor. Personally, I think it's his best movie and I'm not alone in that opinion. But if you are looking for another James and the Giant Peach, you should look elsewhere. The DVD is worth picking up, while the Blu-ray might be a contender for Pick of the Week. Hopefully the screener will arrive shortly.

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Filed under: Video Review, Fantastic Mr. Fox