No matter what anyone says, there’s no real downside to being a film critic. Sure the pay could be better and the commenters could be nicer, but there’s no real negative to being able to write about art you love (or you don’t, depending). But opinions change, and while a review should stand as an educated and informed viewpoint on a certain film that viewpoint can sometimes shift over time.
What I’m saying my first viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox back in 2009 left me unmoved and uninterested. Maybe it’s because I was a big fan of Wes Anderson’s earlier films up until The Darjeeling Limited ‐ which I still dislike strongly ‐ and was disappointed that he moved away from live-action. Maybe it’s because I didn’t understand why some of the animal species talk while others (chickens, the beagle) are just dumb animals. Maybe I just had a bad meal that day. I didn’t review the film but had I done so it probably wouldn’t have been very positive.
What I’m saying ‐ for real this time ‐ is that I’m glad those negative thoughts aren’t captured in a review somewhere, because this movie is a cussing gem. Having re-watched the film in the years since I’ve come to appreciate, enjoy and flat out love it, and since today is the five-year anniversary I decided it’d be a great commentary to listen to… and this time I was right.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Commentators: Wes Anderson (director, co-writer)
1. At the time of the commentary recording in 2013 Anderson was still not clear as to whether the film was a 20th Century Fox or Fox Searchlight release. The logo at the start says one thing but he always believed the other. “Indian Paintbrush, I’m clear on.”
2. The opening landscape shot was constructed from terry cloth, although in England ‐ where the film was made ‐ the material is called “toweling.”
3. The Roald Dahl book shown as a title card is a recreation of the first edition Anderson and his brothers had, read, and loved as children.
4. He has wanted to make a stop-motion film for years and has wanted to adapt this book for an even greater amount of time. “One thing I’ve always liked in terms of stop-motion are animals with fur. I like the way the fur moves, the animators call it “boiling” because you can’t really keep it still.”
5. Anderson co-wrote the film with Noah Baumbach, and the pair did much of the writing at Gypsy House which is Dahl’s family home in Buckinghamshire. Many of the settings and locales in the film are based on places around there.
6. The helicopter seen early on is modeled after T.C.’s chopper in Magnum, P.I. “We needed a good helicopter, and I think this is a memorable one, and it seemed ‐ well anyway nobody told us we couldn’t use it.”
7. Anderson voices the real estate agent in the pink shirt.
8. The script gave the animals more professional occupations to add character and humor to the tale. “In the book they don’t have legal offices or computers or Post-It Notes as you see here.”
9. Roman Coppola voices the squirrel foreman ‐ or is that foremen? Anderson isn’t sure if it’s the same squirrel directing the moving company workers, the construction crew inside and the workers in the tree. “There are numerous squirrels, and they’re all working hard.”
10. The voice performances were originally recorded at a farm in Connecticut. Indoor scenes were recorded in barns, houses and cellars, and outdoor scenes were recorded outdoors.
11. The scene where Mr. Fox laces blueberries with a tranquilizer was “lifted” from another Dahl book called Danny, The Champion of the World. “And, um, they let us do that.” Dahl’s widow, Liccy, allowed them access to his other material.
12. They had to “chop the puppets in half” for the scene where a couple of them are wading through water because the water’s surface was actually glass. Running water, like the waterfalls, is actually just Saran Wrap.
13. The puppets’ eyes are moved between clicks of the camera by way of a tiny hole in the center of each pupil. The animators stick a needle into the hole to adjust the direction.
14. Anderson wanted the score to include banjo music even though composer Alexandre Desplat had never before included one. “[The banjo is] not that popular in France.”
15. The “whackbat” scene was a late addition that Anderson wrote initially on hotel stationary before texting it to Owen Wilson (who voices the coach in the scene). The pair recorded it the next day since they were doing a satellite link-up anyway (possibly for Criterion’s release of The Darjeeling Limited). Brad Schiff (currently an animation supervisor with Laika) animated the scene and worked with Anderson to determine the specifics of what should actually happen during the game. “I don’t understand it still, but Brad does.”
16. The candles during dinner are made of soap. They’re still stop motion, but they received additional animation in post-production.
17. The character of Rat, voiced by Willem Dafoe, was originally recorded with Michael Gambon before they decided to use Gambon as a farmer instead. “Gambon is um, kind of a powerhouse you might say.”
18. Anderson had been told that animated films are basically written during the story-boarding process, but he was thrilled to find that he and Baumbach were “in the unusual situation of having a truly finished script to animate.” He then discovered that what he had heard was actually true as the story shifted throughout production.
19. The film’s ending is not the same as in Dahl’s book, but it is similar to Dahl’s original unused ending that Anderson discovered in the author’s home archives.
20. The relationship between Ash and his taller, cooler cousin Kristofferson was inspired by an After School Special featuring a boy “who took off his shoes and chopped a guy for the other kid.”
21. The scene where Mr. Fox has the chat with Ash after the flood was inspired in part by an unexpected film. “I don’t know if I should reveal my sources. In the Night Shyamalan [sic] movie, where Mel Gibson ‐ what is it called, the one with the invasion and you gotta throw water on the aliens, I’m blanking on the name… Signs. Anyway, Mel Gibson sort of plays that same scene with each of his children at one point.”
22. “This shot, I think I can safely say came from Miami Vice.” He’s referring to the moment after Rat’s death when Mr. Fox takes the dead body in his arms while Ash puts his hand on his father’s shoulder.
23. Anderson says Mr. Fox’s trademark whistle and sound was inspired by Donald Sutherland in M.A.S.H. “Or maybe it’s Elliot Gould… and then also I remember Jeff Goldblum and Ben Vereen had a TV show, Tenspeed and Brownshoe, and they had a little thing they did together. Chicky chicky chai, or something like that. Anyway, that’s the kind of thing it comes from.”
24. Anderson’s favorite scene in the film ‐ “If I get to say that” ‐ is the one featuring the wolf on the rock formation towards the end of the movie. “We had this sort of theme, or something, about what it means to be a wild animal or what that represents to this guy [Mr. Fox] and I think this is a real wild animal.” He adds that the scene is also partly inspired by the Robert Redford film, Jeremiah Johnson. “Anyway. It’s a little abstract.”
25. He says he hasn’t felt much pressure from anyone to do a sequel ‐ “probably because the profit margin on this movie wasn’t as gigantic as we might have hoped.” If he did, though, they would start it in the sewer where the animals have retired to at the end.
Best in Commentary
- “He has special pretzel legs for doing his yoga.”
- “Do the people see that these guys [the animals] are wearing shirts and corduroy suits and things? I don’t know.”
- “These are the nutmeg ginger apple-snaps.”
- “Bill Murray also acted out the part of the wolf on a hill at the farm where we were recording.”
- “Maybe this also refers a bit to the end of Citizen Kane. I don’t know, I’m not sure. Or Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a pretty fantastic film, and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot. (I kid, obviously.) It’s funny, warm and fast-moving, but as great as the film is Anderson’s commentary is equally entertaining. He’s a wonderfully detailed and precise speaker filled with fun asides and observations, and happily he also mentions his desire to make another stop-motion animated film. With any luck we won’t have to wait for another stinker like The Darjeeling Limited before that desire comes true.