Thursday, November 26, 2009

Truly "Fantastic"

Fantastic Mr. Fox

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Wes Anderson has, with Fantastic Mr. Fox, further cemented himself as one of the visionary geniuses of modern American cinema. For a man whose films (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic) employ various "flat," storybook visuals that take advantage of horizontal space and centered compositions, animation seems less like a glass slipper than like a comfortable slipper.

The stop motion animation in "Fox" is a truly astounding feat of deliberation and creativity. The choppy animation slides against highly stylized backgrounds and set designs. The camera travels in Anderson's typical dioramic style, retains much of his quirky flair for characterization, and still makes room to craft a loving group of characters that so squarely reflect the voices that support them the blend between animation, fantasy, and the "reality" of the voices sometimes gets a little dizzy (in an intoxicating kind of way).

Actors like George Clooney and Jason Schwartzmann are impeccable. They try to find the heart of their characters, and work them like real people - not just silly animals. Anderson teams with Noah Baumbach to write the script, and they find lots of idiosyncratic ways to display the dialogue in short, choppy bits. Fantastic Mr. Fox is clever - some might say too clever for its own good - but in a giddy, inventive way.

Perhaps that's why I enjoyed it so much, maybe even fell in love with it: its invention. I'm one who's always been under Anderson's spell for the way he can transform stories about families into rich tapestries. His visuals don't so much exist as breathe with a kind of vitality. That he's managed to do so in an animated film - a stop motion film - speaks to his depth of understanding of film as a visual and emotional medium.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a romp. It doesn't really care about getting inside the characters, it doesn't stage a grandiose or complicated plot, and much of the action seems to glide or float on the tip of the screen instead of burning into it. But in being so free-form in a way that feels almost disconnected from heavy dramatics, the film feels more abstract. No one else but Wes Anderson could have melded such a unique style into such a manic story. It comes from the soul of a man able to look at fantasy through childish eyes and distill a singular spirit through all the cinematic measures at his fingertips.

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