The Fantastic Mr. Fox
I used to think that Wes Anderson, with "Bottle Rocket," his debut feature, had come right out of the gate as a fully formed artist. Now I realize that isn't true. With "Moonrise Kingdom," and his soon-to-be-released "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the director made liberal use of stop-motion animation, dioramas, miniatures, and other "hand-made" filmmaking techniques. They give his work an even more singular, personal touch than it already had. And all those new techniques emerge in his one and only animated film, the stop-motion adaptation "Fantastic Mr. Fox." At the current stage in his development, it's clear: The film where Anderson truly took command of his artistic voice was "Fox."
Now, the Criterion Collection - as they have with all of the director's films leading up to "Fox" - has issued a special edition release of the film befitting of Anderson's stature as an artist. You can spend an entire weekend going through the special features contained within. There's a commentary with Anderson, for starters. The director, reticent to speak about the themes of his work, comments more on text than subtext. Still, his comments on the long-term creation of the film (he wrote the script over a number of years) and on its unexpected reference points (Francois Truffaut movies, "Magnum P.I.") are well worth listening to.
Many of the ensuing extra features detail the aforementioned making-of the picture. There's a 75-minute "animatic" version of the film, showing how the picture looked - complete with recorded dialogue - before the storyboards were replaced with actual animation. Following that is a large collection of set photography taken during production. Moving on from the making-of, there's an introduction to the disc itself (it's animated like the film, and hosted by a peripheral character), a discussion of the themes of the film conducted by a couple of adolescent kids (that feels like an Anderson in-joke), and a collection of publicity featurettes and other short-form videos.
Oddly enough, though, the most interesting extras on this loving release of a Wes Anderson film have nothing to do with Wes Anderson. They regard the author of the source children's novel, the himself-fantastic Roald Dahl. You get an hour-long television special that looks at the Roald Dahl museum and interviews member of his families, as well as a short video ("Witch's Tree") where Dahl explains the interests and influences that drove him to write "Fox" in the first place. That brings us to the best extras included: A collection of Dahl manuscripts detailing an early, unpublished version of "Fantastic Fox," backed by a 50-minute reading of the original novel (audio-only) performed by the late author himself. It's so entrancing that once you're done listening to it, you'll be fighting the urge to watch Anderson's film yet again.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Edition