Even though it comes a little late in the game, I thought I would write about the newest Wes Anderson film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. While I will admit that I generally like Wes Anderson’s work – despite recent criticisms that he’s become a bit too “twee” and has basically taken and unique aesthetic and turned it into a meandering gimmick – I thought that Fantastic Mr. Fox was definitely something special. And I’m not saying that simply because I sometimes live my life in moderately twee climate. I’ve seen almost every Wes Anderson movie (with the exception of Bottle Rocket, which I have had on DVD for quite some time, but haven’t watched yet for reasons that are unclear, even to me) and felt during Fantastic Mr. Fox the way I did when I first saw Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums – like I was seeing something new, something that pleased me aesthetically, and something that I wouldn’t be able to find everywhere.
Fantastic Mr. Fox was beautifully shot and designed; the stop-motion is just beautiful and the painstaking attention to detail in creating the world of Mr. Fox showcases what Anderson is best at doing – creating a world that looks familiar, but is completely unique in and of itself. Wes Anderson movies are always a little emotionally heavy, especially about family matters, the movie’s main plot – the heist caper – and the casting of George Clooney as Mr. Fox adds both lightness and direction to the movie. While I tend to like Anderson’s darker humor and the emotional heaviness of his live-action movies, I thought that there was a balance in The Fantastic Mr. Fox that I really haven’t seen in many of his movies. Funny things were sometimes simply funny and not funny/sad and the moments of emotion or familial tension were secondary to the ultimate direction and pace of the movie. Throughout the entire 90 minutes I spent in the theater, I didn’t feel rushed; I thought the movie lingered enough and moved enough in equal proportions. In Anderson’s live-action movies, we tend to dwell; but then again, I think that’s the entire point of those films. But it was nice to see how Anderson’s vision could be focused to build to a crescendo and a satisfying resolution without losing its essential uniqueness.
Fantastic Mr. Fox has received generally good reviews and has been reviewed as a relatively benign movie and even touted as a kind of redemption for Wes Anderson’s film career and style, so when I saw a headline on DoubleX a few weeks ago about a racist moment in the movie, I had to look into it a bit more. The moment in question one of the the final scenes, in which Mr. Fox pumps his fist in the air to a wolf, a gesture that is returned by the mysterious, non-English-speaking, fearsome animal. While I understood Mr. Fox’s raised fist at the end of the movie to be a sign of victory, I know the sign of the raised fist comes with more modern implications than, “Go team! We did it! I have faced all my fears and reach out to you in a sign of triumph!” For a better understanding of the debate I’m only slightly tapping into, here’s Lauren Bans’s “A Racist Moment in Fantastic Mr. Fox,” from DoubleX, in which she discusses the moment as another example in which ” Wes Anderson’s oft-criticized ‘mishandling’ of race peeks through,” and Ross Douthat’s response, “The Call of the Wild,” from The New York Times, in which he highlights the multiple meanings of the gesture.
For Anderson fans, die-hard or not, here’s a clip from Rushmore that includes one of my favorite lines, “She’s my Rushmore, Max.” It also does a good job of showing how a standard Anderson movies moves – slowly, deliberately, and building oddly two-dimensional but moving characters. And here’s my favorite scene from The Royal Tennenbaums, in which Richie Tennenbaum’s “usual escort, the one from his days on the circuit” meets him “by way of the Green Line Bus.” I love this scene for it’s camera work, Alec Baldwin’s narration, and becuase it’s my favorite work from both Gwenyth Paltrow and Luke Wilson. Oh, yeah, and the music isn’t bad either. Oh, and for tennis fans, here’s another favorite, Richie’s last match at Windswept Fields.