The true joy a stop motion animation fan gets from watching a film like Fantastic Mr. Fox is to see the creativity of the artists. Unlike computer or hand drawn animation where everything is possible, that is not the same for a stop motion animator. Every movement needs to be physically possible with minimal trickery.
Stop motion animators need to leave their own personal mark, while maintaining the needs of the story. Fantastic Mr. Fox has its share of technical achievements. Boldly, it features a number of first-person shots, two near the end of a rabid dog chasing a character. What is on screen for a second or two is a remarkable achievement, keeping the puppet not only standing, but running believably through a miniature set full of meticulous detail.
There is another scene as well, where a frustrated business owner, irritated over the loss of his product due a thieving fox, begins destroying his office. Papers fly, curtains are ripped from the windows, and tables are flipped. Generally, debris is not something you want to attempt in stop motion due to the difficulty.
Some may fault the film for its slightly choppier animation (12 frames per second as opposed to say 24 for the Tim Burton efforts), yet the charm and artistry is still there. On top of the visual splendor lies a classic tale, that of some hilariously sadistic business owners struggling to kill a group of wild animals.
The animals use their wits and intelligence to outsmart and outmaneuver the owners, while dealing with their own issues. Both the storybook feel and the world are immediately established. Foxes and other critters live in a society much like our own, the cute tree-buying sequence at the start with the realtor pointing out the positives is superb.
Being a children’s film, the animals and humans do not curse, but they say “cuss” wherever the average person would insert their own choice four-letter word. It is a creative work-around, certainly one that generates inoffensive laughs and keeps the dialogue natural.
The film, in the hands of Wes Anderson, keeps a very indie feel. His awkward pauses, weird mannerisms, and quirky thought process appear on screen despite working through animators. That is an impressive achievement, as is Fantastic Mr. Fox as a whole. Kids will likely not get it despite the cutesy animals, but as stop motion fan, this one delivers and tells a story to back it all up.
Shot digitally via the Nikon D3, Fantastic Mr. Fox comes from Fox (ironic slightly, no?) in a stunner of an AVC encode. Every animal is of course loaded with individual furs, each fully resolved, defined, and clear. The subtle touch of the animators hands, visible due to a small shifting of the fur, comes through flawlessly. Numerous close-ups of the puppet faces are not just stunning due to their fur, but other details. Look at their eyes where the material used in their irises are fully visible. Clothing generally carries a thick stitching pattern that never disappoints.
Miniature set work is outstanding, especially early before the animals are forced into a more mechanical underground sewer. Every blade of grass is easily distinguished, even at a distance when establishing the tree home of Mr. Fox. Concrete carries a realistic texture, and is stunningly rendered on this disc. The final shot of the film, a reverse pan inside a supermarket, has countless objects on the shelves. Even at full zoom before moving outside, every box is clearly defined. Watch for the gorgeous glistening of the cider bottles during that theft sequence as well.
The color palette of the film is generally brown, orange, and yellow. Very few colors, with the exception of the rich blue night sky, are allowed in. However, the saturation gives the film a glowing quality, bright and bold. Black levels are the one weakness, occasionally appearing weak and gray. The first meeting between the three business owners shows Bean shrouded in darkness with limited depth in the blacks. Most of the film carries a wonderful dimensional quality, so these few shots are merely a small hindrance.
Wes Anderson is never looking for a booming musical accompaniment, which leaves the light, breezy musical score of Mr. Fox without much impact. That said, this DTS-HD mix presents it beautifully. While there is softness to the music, the mix captures it without fault. Mild lyrics are clear and distinct, while accompanying instruments feature those same qualities.
Dialogue sounds slightly forceful, possibly a result of the unique location recording methods. It is certainly prioritized, carrying a heavy, even lightly bassy quality. There is a significant amount of panning across the front channels, tracking conversations along with camera movements.
Surrounds come into play as the three business owners begin assaulting the animal homes. Dirt and debris collapses around the viewer, and the subwoofer has a few deep effects to catch as well. The flooding of the sewers is foreshadowed by a deep, earthquake like rumble. While not fully extended into the low end, the effect is more than adequate. Gunfire, with a crisp high end, dominates the soundfield in a scene near the end of the film.
Making Mr. Fantastic kicks off the special features, a six-part making-of that runs 45-minutes. While fairly general and familiar, seeing the animators work and the miniature sets being brought to life is always interesting. An explanation of the sport shown in the film called Whack-Bat is given a short, somewhat muddled one-minute long explanation. The World of Roald Dahl is a three-minute featurette on the famed author, and why Anderson wanted this project. Trailers remain.