Like no one else, Wes Anderson combines a sense of childhood -- arrested childhood in The Royal Tenenbaums, actual kids in Moonrise Kingdom -- with a sophisticated narrative and gloriously detailed visuals that might be dollhouses come to life. No wonder Fantastic Mr. Fox, (newly released by the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray) may be his most enchanting film, an animated kids' story about a fox so human he wears a tie and writes a newspaper column, that is also savvy enough to charm grown-ups.
A great deal of that charm depends on George Clooney, whose voice as Mr. Fox, pulling one last crime caper, is droll without crossing the line into verbally winking at the audience. Talk about perfect casting: if Anderson has managed to hang onto his inner child, what about a 50-something who famously pulls pranks? Clooney is just the guy for this job.
The behind the scenes extras show him rolling on the grass at a farm where some of the voices were rehearsed and recorded. It's fun to watch, but very brief. Most of the extras, including glimpses of the puppets being made, Meryl Streep recording Mrs. Fox in a Paris studio, and even Anderson's own commentary, provide sidelights not revelations.
What does come through a bit unexpectedly is Anderson's passion for Roald Dahl's book, an attachment that goes back to his own childhood. This edition also includes a solid hour-long documentary about Dahl's very complicated adult life. Without comparing the two men personally, it's not a stretch to see that Dahl's career spoke so strongly to Anderson because both mix intensely grown-up and childlike qualities.
In the end, of course, it's Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox that is the centerpiece of the Criterion release.
No matter how many times I watch it -- and I've watched it a lot -- the film is
always sheer delight