Wes! I missed you so much!
I’ve done some soul-searching re: Wes Anderson. According to me (but not all of his die-hard fans), the guy made some seriously good movies at first (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), but then succumbed to a rut during which he remade the same movie a couple more times (The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited). While better than the average director’s worst movies, I had to come to a tearful conclusion that I could no longer pretend to be astounded and amazed by what was starting to resemble a one-trick pony.
Either I’m just a huge sucker for sardonic foxes who entertain child and adult alike, or switching genres and audiences can really restart a stalled talent’s engines. After more of this soul-searching, I’ve decided that the answer is c) all of the above. It’s true that if both a copy of Roald Dahl’s brief children’s work Fantastic Mr. Fox and a DVD of Rushmore can be found among your treasured possessions, you will not be disappointed, but this movie works regardless of any sentimental attachments you might have.
For one, it’s stop animation. EVERYONE likes stop animation. It’s furry, it’s fuzzy, it brings to mind the holiday movies of our youth. For two, it’s George Clooney and Meryl Streep. And Jason Schwartzman. And Bill Murray! Beloved actors, all, but with interesting new faces. For three, it’s not just based on a book by one of the greatest children’s authors of all time, it’s based on the original illustrations by Donald Chaffin. These illustrations are beautifully humorous in their composition in the exact same way that Anderson’s movies are beautifully humorous in their composition. Those ironic good looks arranged overtop a solid skeleton of a classically funny Dahl story — and it’s People’s Sexiest Movie Alive.
That may be the wrong analogy for a family movie, but I’m hoping you get my drift. All of the elements on their own are good. They achieve their purpose. Put together, it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year*, and certainly the most surprising in that I would never have predicted Anderson’s seamless move from quirky comedy to quirky family animated British-children’s-classic-based comedy.
I’ll be cussed if it doesn’t work almost perfectly, though, with the only minor flaw being a little lagging boredom near the end as the point gets driven home too many times. You can’t blame that on Dahl, either, since the audience’s interest starts to flag at almost exactly the point at which the original story arc ends and the extension begins. My delight and relief with the success of this whole operation was enough to bolster me through the seventh-inning slump, and yours will be too.
I’m just hoping Wes won’t take this as an open invitation to direct the animated adaptation of all Roald Dahl books.** If we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that, while your films can and should have a common style, diversity is key. We also learned that evidently I feel like I can give Wes Anderson unsolicited and inexpert advice whenever I please. Eh, there is hope for at least one of us.
*Possible exception: Drag Me to Hell.
**Although maybe we’d get some Luke Wilson, finally.