Monday, November 16, 2009

Let Me Write That Again

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.


David B. Levy said...

I just saw Fox last night and boy do I agree with everything you write. What a film! And, I couldn't agree more in your thoughts about Coraline in comparison. But, of course there is a ton of artistry and good intensions in both films.

The interesting thing is that it sometimes takes an outsider to animation to do something interesting in animation. Coraline, on the other hand, was filled with animated flourishes that drove me crazy. When I see that kind of work it makes me think the animators are trying to save the script. No such saving was needed in Mr. Fox.

roconnor said...

I haven't read any in depth reviews, but a bunch of people saying it's "fantastic".

It's actually difficult for me to encapsulate how remarkable, how good, this film is. I could write a whole book on it.

Just the Fox character -George Clooney often plays "cartoon", especially in his Coen Bros work -the results in his voice work is extraordinary. The animators play with that is amongst the best stop motion character acting on film (up there with Gromit and a few others).

Ultimately, there's no comparison of this to Coraline. Despite it's technical achievements Coraline is a shell, and even it's dazzling moments aren't so much beautiful as overwhelming.

The scene with wolf towards the end of Mr. Fox, that's what filmmaking is about. Anderson and his team have made literature.

Michael Sporn said...

Yours is the perfect review of this film. I hope tosee this movie another half dozen times.

George Griffin said...

Right, Richard. You have to separate the hype from the art. Anderson's other stuff projects his preppy, privileged whimsy. Here he starts with good material (Dahl), a good collaborator (Eggers) and just enough distance from the actual production to get it right. Mr. Fox is so unslick even his clothes don't seem to fit, his fur bristles and he digs, hunts and fights like the Roadrunner.

George Griffin said...

I meant to say, Noah Baumbach. That was Eggers on the Wild Things.

roconnor said...

It's an easy mistake, as Spike Jonez is another guy in this movement.

I'm very glad you see this too, George. Whenever I suggest this folks look at me like I'm crazier than they initially thought.

We live in a society that aspires to the careless worlds these directors create. In that regard, they are not the ones who are out-of-step.

Elliot Cowan said...

Interesting that Dave makes the Coraline comparison as H. Selick was originally slated to direct the animation on this film...