06 July 2010
When this came out in theaters, I had been snarkily (but also seriously) accusing Wes Anderson of making cartoony films with flat, two-dimensional characters for years (all the way back to The Royal Tanenbaums, which I like quite a bit), and I remember saying I had more hope for "that Roald Dahl film" he's working on than I did for Darjeeling, because live-action cartoons are kind of annoying and animated cartoons are obviously less so. Although The Darjeeling Ltd. isn't unwatchable, and like all Anderson's film (even The Life Aquatic) it has charm in its creation and a handful of pretty excellent moments, it's not what I'd call an excellent film.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox gets away with a lot more, though, for the reason stated above, and because Anderson's stilted art direction and choreography gives the very, very good stop-motion animation a fun, kind of experimental feel. The film really plays on some meta levels, teasing you and your expectations or understanding of the genre of kids' action movies, using a visual shorthand to rush through some stuff in a flat, perpendicular-to-the-camera tableau that (literally) any other filmmaker would have turned into an interesting and dynamic setpiece of its own. Chases, the fox ball-game, tunneling montages -- they're delivered more like dioramas than staged dramas (how's that wordplay? it was the best I could come up with). And yet, because the tone is so clever and the stakes remain high and all of the characters are likable, intelligent, and flawed (credit where its due: Anderson excels at likable, intelligent, and flawed characters), I'm never bored. I actually like this movie. In fact, I actually like the stiff, undynamic approach and the "you know what we mean" setpiece shorthand. The film is incredibly fun and wants you to have fun, too. The stuff that in a live action Wes Anderson picture I sometimes roll my eyes at or wish wasn't sticking out like a sore thumb in the place of genuine action or drama or pathos, in this it feels like a strength. And as to the animation itself, and the set design and cinematography, its all just hand-made gorgeous. I could watch that waterfall scene a million times and never get tired of its beauty.