Friday, December 18, 2009

I loved Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mister Fox. The move into animation is a great fit for someone with such art-director instincts. By choosing to animate, the whole "films about rich white kids" thing melts away, because that all arose out of a want to build lavish sets rich in detail. The symmetrical shots moves into diorama territory. The director's style meets the animation perfectly, and the story keeps moving from set to set, with the style varying itself accordingly, to show how much it can handle, and it all adds up to something so purely enjoyable to look at.

Some scenes almost move too quickly. The dialogue, equally stylized, moves at a fast clip. You can't really bask in all the detail, all at once. The timing even seems a little off, without human actors to ground it. Partly this stems from how visually sumptuous the screen is at all times. There's a tension between the actor's performances and the animation, where I found all of the voices- so hard to distinguish from each other, compared to most animation. The "look" of the film is such that it sort of deadens character designs, especially considering that long shots are favored so heavily as a way to get in all the detail of the backgrounds.

The dialogue is so fast-moving and stylized that it can't all be parsed, especially while the mind is so taken in with visual detail, which makes it all the more distracting as the mind reels to keep up. Characters say the word "cuss" in place of profanity, which makes sense, but this little gag seems to have made the screenwriters more likely to have the characters fake-swear. It felt to me like the places where the word "fuck" would be the word in question occured here more than the actual word did in Anderson's other films. I could just think that because the use of the word here is so distracting as to be a Godard=level distancing device.

This is the film's great "flaw," if you believe in those. It's not the triumph of traditional craft seen in Up. There's tension between different positive qualities. It's so highly stylized that the styles push up against each other. The delight in cinematic artifice is balanced by this joy in natural beauty, evident in the fur of the characters and the various minerals that make up the backgrounds. It's this "flaw" that makes me want to watch it multiple times, focusing on different elements each time. I think that "too lavish" is an asshole's criticism, frankly. This film really invites asshole criticisms. The "twee/hipster" thing that Anderson's received since The Life Aquatic will come up again and again.

Watching it made me think of Michel Gondry's The Science Of Sleep, which, while live-action, had such a sense of itself visually as for that to be its motivating rationale for being. The "twee" criticism comes from the fact these things base their substance in style. It's the same thing as CGI extravaganzas, for a set of separate values. It's also what makes pretty much any kind of visual art work. It's how comics work, in a lot of ways. These movies are Souther Salazar to James Cameron's Bryan Hitch.

This film is such a triumph. For people who've been on-board with Wes Anderson consistently, this is a reminder that you picked the right team to be on. These are things worth embracing.


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