On February 18, 2014, the Criterion Collection will do something that they rarely ever do: release an animated film onto DVD/Blu-ray. The film is Fantastic Mr. Fox, Criterion’s first animated feature release since Akira in 1993. To give you a sense of how long ago that was, Akira was released on laserdisc since DVDs hadn’t yet been invented.
No one is naive about Criterion’s sudden interest in an animated film. The release of Fantastic Mr. Fox has more to do with their fetishistic devotion to the work of Wes Anderson than any sudden desire to celebrate animation. I have mixed feelings about asking the animation community to support the title. On the one hand, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a fine film in its own right and Criterion should be encouraged for releasing animation. On the other hand, the film is readily available on DVD, and it’s clearly intended to cater to Wes Anderson fans, not animation enthusiasts.
By neglecting to include animation among its collection for as long as it has, Criterion has failed in its own self-proclaimed mission of “gathering the greatest films from around the world” and “publishing the defining moments of cinema for a wider and wider audience.” Their narrow definitions of film and cinema might have sufficed when they started the company in 1984, but it is incomprehensible for a contemporary company that promotes filmmakers and cinema on Criterion’s scale to remain so tone-deaf to the place of animation within the cinematic tradition.