Expectations are important in film.
A film must set and meet (and hopefully exceed) expectations in the viewer.
Conversely, pre-conceived expectations in the viewer typically do disservice to the film.
Wes Anderson has been a leading figure in a Cinema of the Leisure Class. His films from "Bottle Rocket" to "Darjeeling Limited" celebrate priviledged parties in a world with little consequences while showcasing the director's really cool record collection. The result -films that are generally enjoyable, though not particularly likable. Like the kid with easy good looks, quick wit, and a nice car who can never remember your name.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox" uses almost all of Anderson's tropes -characters staring blankly into camera, cool pop soundtrack (primarily Beach Boys here), smarter than you leads. Missing is the overcranked slow motion shots -thankfully, (once is cute, twice is pushing it, three times is just garbage).
The technique, a Rankin Bass style stop motion, recalls the backyard home movies budding filmmakers create with their action figures and dolls. The glossy film school gimmicks of "Rushmore" are in the distance.
What does this all add up to? "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is a remarkable achievement. The peculiarities of the technique reign in the director's indulgences. The director's "auteur" vision opens previously uncharted territory for films that use animation.
I've heard some animators complain about Wes Anderson rarely visiting the shooting set. I suspect these are either amateurs or pixel pushing cubicle monkeys with little experience working with creative animators. Animators don't need a director looking over their shoulders eight hours a day, they need a person to tell them what needs to be done and give them the space to do it.
And, really, the proof is in the results. The animation, under the supervision of Mark Gustafson (who, if I recall correctly, was a big cog in the Will Vinton machine) is exceptional. Compare to the overwrought flourishes of "Coraline" which moves around so much but says so little, the idiosyncracies of the animation in "Fantastic Mr. Fox" are not simply hurky-jerky but statements of purpose. The animation reveals truths about the characters.
Let me write that again. In "Fantastic Mr. Fox", the animation reveals truths about the characters.
When the foxes eat, they sit down properly, tuck in their napkins then voraciously devour their food leaving a mess of flotsam and crumbs. It's funny. It's simple, goofy animation. It's a pure gesture that reminds us -they're wild animals.
If he releases another film like this Wes Anderson may vie with Richard Linklater for the best director of animated films working today.