Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Fantastic Mr Fox: Good Job, Wes and Raold


Raold Dahl and Wes Anderson are people who have created very personal, stylized worlds over the course of their storytelling careers. Raold Dahl's world is whimsical and exaggerated, acting according to a sort of unfamiliar logic (unfamiliar to us adults, perhaps, because it's a magical and childlike logic). His logic straddles the line of the non-sequitor at times, and his characters are painted in such clumsy splashes of personality that they can be grotesque and almost aversive. Wes Anderson is the complimentary opposite, creating emotional landscapes that are subdued and formal, sometimes clinical, like we're watching them interact in an emotional locked box (represented, in part, by the closed locations where his stories unfold: the Royal manor, Steve Zisou's submarine, Rushmore Academy). However, even in their dissimilarity, these two storytellers reach a similar place: both create worlds that are so spontaneous that they seem naked, bare and overexposed in their quirky internal logics.

It's interesting to see what happens when you cross-pollinate such different personalities. In the case of these two, the result is The Fantastic Mister Fox, which I can attest is a great movie.

The adaptation of Dahl's story moves quickly, but its over-arching themes -- confidence, the need for approval, and the larger commitment to marriage and community -- bring the frenetic plot together into a strong story. The pacing is fun, but the plot doesn't scream "fascinating" or "experimental" (or "pretentious," luckily). The film's true hook is its timing and comedic effect, and in this regard, Anderson hereby proves himself an adept. He gives his wry humor a dose of silliness, and a pinch of punchline, and it makes for a great experience.

I left this film feeling genuinely charmed. George Clooney helped in this regard, but he wasn't the only factor, because in the wrong hands, he comes off as a guy who tries too hard and ends up being off-putting. No, it was truly the whole film that charmed me... I came out feeling like I'd just spent these two hours having a conversation with a really friendly, interesting person in a bar, and they'd taken a personal interest in me and told me I was a really cool guy.

So three cheers for Wes Anderson. I'm a sucker for directors who can adapt to another effect (comedy) or another genre (childrens' stories) or another tone (whimsical), and Anderson does all three of these beautifully. Perhaps, given a sense of purpose and mission, his true strengths as a director come out. I've had mixed feelings about him before, but in this case, I can't find much of anything to criticize. Anderson and Dahl made it work just right.

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