The Hotel Chevalier short that shows before The Darjeeling Limited is interesting in that it doesn't show a lot of what is typically associated with Wes Anderson's style, the things that people are criticizing as tics. It's not crazy art-directed, it's not really all that quirky, etc. It could be said to signal a new direction, if anyone thought he was going to go that way, but I don't think anyone thinks he is, because that's a terrible direction, and Hotel Chevalier really isn't very good. It's important for context later on in The Darjeeling Limited.
Matthew Perpetua said the smartest things about The Darjeeling Limited, or at least the things that I was thinking about: Hey, here's a movie about rich kids, because Anderson's art-direction-driven style makes the most sense in a movie about rich kids, which I have no problem with, and also that's what the Coppola family members who cowrote the script know. Although, it's also worth noting that the movie doesn't have enough Bill Murray in it: The best scenes have Bill Murray in them. There's two of them. Oh, that first scene, with moving cameras? That's an interesting way that Anderson's style could evolve in a positive way. So nice and brisk coming out of the claustrophobia of Hotel Chevalier, shaking off its boredom.
I also liked the way the soundtrack was largely pre-existing Indian music. That showed signs of growth, although it was held back by the use of that song Jason Schwartzman plays on his iPod (it gets heard TWICE in Hotel Chevalier, right? At least!) (and in terms of art direction- eek, an iPod? The Royal Tenenbaums had things like electric tie racks) which brings us back to the world of expected Wes Anderson soundtrack choice music.
I did like the "I like how mean you are" bit at the end of the movie, which does require the setup in the short, making the short necessary. Also, the very presence of the short preceding the feature signals an interesting artistic choice/possible new direction. Certainly, these are minor deviations, but I still think they're valid.
I still think The Life Aquatic was better, and I think it's unfair to compare it to anything before The Royal Tenenbaums. Is it the weakest? Yeah, probably, but who cares, that's not the point. It's comparable to Lost In Translation in some of the themes it deals with, and it's way better than that, and isn't what really counts in art the strength in the way in which things are articulated, rather than how something fits into an oeuvre?
The answer is yes, but I don't think I have anything to say about the themes in question. Nor does any other movie critic in America, besides that Fluxblog piece I linked to, and that piece gets distracted, so there we are. The Darjeeling Limited is a thing that exists, and has its pleasures.