It isn’t exactly news to say that bringing children’s books to the screen is a tough business. But, even within that world, Roald Dahl makes the venture especially challenging. There is more going on in a Dahl work than you normally find. The stories are more complex, and often leave some things open to interpretation. Besides that, Dahl is a special sort of screwy. Something like the Philip K. Dick of children’s authors, Dahl’s stories are in some ways as “out there” as they are brilliant.
Wes Anderson‘s Fantastic Mr. Fox relays the original work better than anyone could have legitimately hoped, and the result is outstandingly fun and clever, and destined to become a treasured classic on par with 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a suave, cool woodland creature, and as the story opens he is joyfully engaged in the art of fowl thievery, which in this world is not merely a manner in which one fills their belly, but apparently a profession. Working one particular job with Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), things don’t quite go according to plan, and Mrs. Fox makes Mr. Fox give up the business. After all, she’s pregnant.
Fast forward a few Fox Years, and Mr. Fox, now working as a writer for the local rag, is tired of living in a hole in the ground, and decides to put down an offer on a handsome tree. Unfortunately, said tree is in the neighborhood of three farmers who deal in fowl (among other things), and the temptation proves too much for Mr. Fox.
Of course, we have to take sneaky to new levels when trying to keep things from the wife, but Mr. Fox has other problems as well. His son doesn’t think he lives up to his father’s expectations, which isn’t helped by a visiting cousin who Mr. Fox seems wildly impressed with.
The themes and statements run as wild as the adventure, as plans go awry from every angle, and Mr. Fox finds himself deeper and deeper (literally) in a convoluted mess he created.
Part of the real genius of Dahl is that his stories often leave you wondering what point they’re really after. That is, when movie versions aren’t overemphasizing the highlights. Sure, some things are pretty straight-forward, in some sense anyway, but Mr. Fox’ world and troubles aren’t so simple in the end. Not turning to a life of crime (though there is some question if that is how you would look at it here), paying attention to your kid, and/or appreciating what you have all strike you as things you’re pretty comfortable saying. They’re even all easy to find as “clear” morals to the story. But, are they really what the story is after? When we come through on the other side of all the fun and crazy exploits, are we actually being led to the idea that Mr. Fox “should” have done things differently?
There’s plenty of ammunition for a great debate, which is its own statement on the wonderful richness and depth of Dahl’s work, but I suspect the true aim of the story is something wickedly more grey than that.
Whether it is my own flight of fancy or not, the fact that the impression comes through in the film at all is, at the very least, surprising. Merely telling a Dahl story isn’t that complicated, but getting it all to come through in a way that delivers the same wonder of imagination truly freed is an accomplishment. Managing it while standing back just enough to give Dahl’s message (whatever the heck that might be), and infusing massive amounts of fun is beyond any expectations.
The Blu-Ray isn’t exactly packed with bonuses, but it has a nice package of Making Of features that are going to be interesting to just about everyone.
Disc One Blu-ray
• Making Mr. Fox Fantastic
o The Look Of Fantastic Mr. Fox
o From Script To Screen
o The Puppet Makers
o Still Life (Puppet Animation)
o The Cast
o Bill And His Badger
• A Beginner’s Guide To Whack-Bat
• Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World Of Roald Dahl
Each section of what comes together as Making Mr. Fox Fantastic isn’t all that long, but as a whole this is a really nice feature. They’re all pretty self-explanatory, and you get pretty well what you expect. Especially interesting are The Puppet Makers and The Cast. There is ultimately a bit more emphasis on the stop-motion work than everyone needs, but it’s a solid behind-the-scenes effort.
A Beginner’s Guide to Whack-Bat is something of a miss really, giving you nothing more than a handy way to get to the scene from the film. It’s slower and pauses for you, but it doesn’t actually give you new information.
The final bonus Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World of Roald Dahl is something that fans will appreciate, but they will probably end up wishing for a bit more. It’s not a bad DVD bonus in the grand scheme of things, but it could have been more. Any exploration of Dahl is a good thing though, and you’ll certainly enjoy it.
The Blu-Ray release also comes with the standard DVD (which includes some of the special features), and a digital copy of the film.
The Blu-Ray could definitely have more going for it in terms of bonuses, but you won’t mind that much. It looks amazing, and the movie is worth owning without any extras.
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