Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” hit the venerable Criterion Collection last week. Anderson is probably the only living filmmaker today that pretty much has every one of his films represented on the prestige boutique label, and it’s not hard to understand why the fastidious and well-organized filmmaker would want a comprehensive and detailed recount of his movies the way Criterion so lovingly creates.
An animated film based on Roald Dahl's famous childrens' novel, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” features the voice work of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe among many others. Co-written by Noah Baumbach (who also co-wrote Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”) as a “kids” movie, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” didn’t connect the way most animated movies aimed at children do these days (only grossing $46 million domestically). And while one may lay that at the feet of the vintage looking puppets and stop-motion animation techniques, some of it is likely due to the fact that for an animated kids movies, it’s extremely sophisticated.
Or perhaps it's that it's a quintessentially Wes Anderson movie, only this time told with puppets instead of live action with real actors. The familial tension is there, with the story featuring an unreliable patriarch who’s a bit of a sonofabitch, a dysfunctional father-son dynamic, a would-be sibling rivalry and a familiar themes of failure and greatness. Like many of Anderson’s characters Mr. Fox is vain, conceited and wants to be the best. He's the center of attention (the “fantastic Mr. Fox” as he intones in his own monologue), but his cockiness and hubris often gets the best of him and he’s often putting the lives of his friends, family and neighbors in jeopardy if only to prove to everyone (and perhaps himself) that he’s special.
And while the themes are simple and familiar—trying to be a father, a good husband, but also being true to his animalistic, feral roots—it’s still much richer and more textured than you’d expect. "At the end of the day, I’m a wild animal," Mr. Fox says to his wife sadly for all his mistakes and flaws (the temptation to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox” as an allegory for the way that all men are fundamentally irresponsible and untrustworthy is perhaps not unwarranted either, given the character).
In any event, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” shouldn’t be underestimated in the Wes Anderson film canon and it’s arguably more satisfying, emotionally and otherwise, than most films from the second half of the filmmaker’s oeuvre. The Criterion disc is typically loaded with extras, but for us, perhaps the most interesting thing is all the tiny (or in some cases large and overt) cinematic references Anderson made in the picture throughout. Here are 15 unlikely influences, inspirations and as Anderson puts it, straight out “lifts,” that informed his animated feature along with the exact shot Anderson is talking about during the commentary track. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is available on Blu-Ray & DVD now via the Criterion Collection.
1. Brian Wilson
This one is a bit of a cheat. Easily the least unlikely influence on the movie given Anderson's interest in classic ‘60s and ‘70s rock in his movies, but it is interesting to hear the usually precise and detailed filmmaker admit that he doesn’t know why Brian Wilson and pals affected the movie. “Here we have set this to a Beach Boys song, ‘Heroes & Villains,’ and we kind of have a Beach Boys motif throughout the film,” he said on the Criterion Collection commentary track. “I’m not sure exactly why. It just sort of seemed like the thing to do at the time.”
2. “Magnum P. I.”
“That helicopter is based on the character T.C. in 'Magnum P.I.,' that’s his helicopter. We needed a good helicopter [to model off of] and I think that’s a memorable one. And well, nobody told us we couldn’t use it,” he said about the legalities of the homage.
3. “West Side Story”
“Some of these moves… ‘West Side Story’ was a kind of inspiration for Rat’s [moves],” he said of Willem Dafoe’s nasty adversarial character. “Though he can do things that a human can’t.”
4. “Rebel Without A Cause”
“Stop! Stop! Stop! She says one thing, you say another, and it all changes back again!” Kylie the possum shrieks during one scene where Mr. Fox and Mrs. Fox argue as the farmers try and destroy their home.
“This has something to do with 'Rebel Without A Cause,' what Kylie says there. Not for any particular reason, but maybe it’s just an homage?” Anderson says. Listen to the original clip here. Incidentally, Kylie is voiced quite excellently by Anderson’s writer/producer non-actor friend Wallace Wolodarsky (he's also cameod in "Rushmore" "The Darjeeling Limited" the upcoming "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and extra credit to anyone who recognizes that Noah Taylor's Wolodarsky character is named after him in "The Life Aquatic”) and he holds his own well next to the more experienced George Clooney.
5. Francois Truffaut
The “come to Jesus” scene as it were, where Mrs. Fox tells Mr. Fox she wishes she wouldn’t have married him because he’s always essentially been too self-centered and put their lives in danger. The sequence appropriates composer George Delerue’s “Une petite île” from Francois Truffaut’s “Two English Girls” (and one has to wonder if he and Baumbach were going through the Delerue archives given how much the composer is used in the latter’s “Frances Ha”).
6. “The Man in the White Suit”
“The sound of this [shot] is inspired by, and possibly lifted directly from ‘The Man in the White Suit.’ ” Anderson says about the bubbling, scientific sounds taken from Alexander Mackendrick's Ealing Studios 1951 satirical comedy starring Alec Guinness.
7. M. Night Shyamalan
“Now this scene is in part… I don’t know if should reveal my sources, in the M. Night Shyamalan film where Mel Gibson — what is it called? The one with the invasion where they have to throw water on the aliens. I’m blanking on the name. ‘Signs.’ Anyway Mel Gibson sorta plays the same scene with each of his children at one point.”
8. Bob Fosse
“Here they run into the Rat and we go into our ‘West Side Story’ [homage again]. We sort of did a Bob Fosse dance number. Bob Fosse gave us a number of inspirations along the way.”
9. Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone
“Alexandre [Desplat] discussed a Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone [vibe]. I don’t think it’s hard to spot if you know what I’m referring to."
Anderson is referring to the Desplat-written Spaghetti Western-like Fantastic Mr. Fox score track “Just Another Dead Rat In A Garbage Pail (Behind A Chinese Restaurant)" that begins right before the big fight scene between Mr. Fox and Rat.
10. "My Own Private Idaho"
“This fight is a series of stills. The other inspiration for it is: there’s a scene in ‘My Own Private Idaho’ — in fact two scenes that are done in a similar way. Quite a different kind of scene, but I think that’s also where it comes from.”
11. “Miami Vice” (Michael Mann’s 1980s TV series)
Rat’s Death scene: “This shot, I think I can safely say, came from Miami Vice. Don Johnson is holding his shot, dead friend. Tubbs steps in over him and puts his hand on his shoulder.” The scene in question is the 21st episode of the first season called "Evan" and if you're curious, you can watch it here on Hulu.
“That’s my trademark” Mr. Fox says about his whistle and clicking voice affect.
“Where does that come from? In part, I think that might be inspired by, I guess it’s Donald Sutherland in 'M.A.S.H.' or maybe it’s Elliott Gould, but I think it’s Donald who has a sort of whistle he does as Hawkeye. Also, Jeff Goldblum and Ben Vereen had a TV show, 'Tenspeed and Brown Shoe' and they had a little thing they did together—'Chitty chitty chai'—or something like that. Anyway, that’s the kind of thing it comes from.” Examples below.
13. “Jeremiah Johnson”
“It’s my favorite scene in the movie, if I’m allowed to say that. There’s also a scene in 'Jeremiah Johnson' [starring] Robert Redford [and directed by] Sydney Pollack — that gave us some inspiration for this [scene].” Compare the two below.
14. Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson
“You’ll see that they all have their own dancing style. Mr. Fox, I think we just went with Fred Astaire. For Ash, (Jason Schwartzman) we used some Michael Jackson moves maybe. Mrs. Fox, Zizi Jeanmaire, a French Dancer, and Kylie does a kind of robo break-dance.”
15. Orson Welles & Steven Spielberg
“Maybe this all refers to the end of ‘Citizen Kane,’ I dunno, I’m not sure, or ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark.’ ”
Below: George Clooney records his lines in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” dialogue and Criterion’s “Three Reasons” for the film. And chase it all down with some Art Tatum used briefly in the film.