His films have always seemed hyper-real, from art direction and design to the behaviors and banter of his characters. Having watched four of his films in theaters– some more than once– I consistently heard and watched the divisive quality of his heavily marketed, “quirky” films on the audience. Half the audience cracks up at the twisted looking-glass humor, while the others shift in their seats and grumble at the perceived failure of the jokes.
The challenge of appreciating Anderson’s work depends on how willing the audience is to acknowledge their own faults in the self-deprecating humor that drives his movies. What better way to disguise that premise than behind fuzzy animals with human qualities.
During a preview screening for Fantastic Mr. Fox, the room lit up with peels of guffaws from a variety of people, including the little ones. Everyone was getting the humor. This PG-rated film captivated the kids even with its primitive effects (the current CGI-reared generation of kids are far removed from the Gumby crowd). This accomplishment stems from Anderson’s adept use of pacing and his faithful use of his chosen medium. Even the explosions during the animals’ battles with the human farmers are of the stop-motion variety (painted cotton balls). No CGI cheats throughout!
The film also does not sugarcoat that animal behavior with innocent cuteness. The sharp delivery of dialogue between the characters sometimes slips toward wild unpredictable primal behavior, which wittily treads the line of silliness and danger. It inevitably leads to some cruel scenes with real consequences, which builds up to an ominous encounter with a wolf. The scene is laden with danger thanks to the simple, often humorous and sometimes emotional way the violence unfolds earlier in the film. It recalls the scene in the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou when Zissou finally catches up with the jaguar shark but without the melodrama.
I had my trepidations when I first heard Anderson was working on an animated film. Then the trailer never did the film proper justice, as the characters are so much more laden with hang-ups than the sound bites used in the preview might have you think.
Watching the movie unfold felt like you were watching Anderson’s masterpiece. Unlike, so many movies for kids*, this movie felt organic and authentic, and what do kids need most but true, heart-felt honesty, even if that truth might have its dark places. As Fantastic Mr. Fox continually reminds us, “We’re wild animals.”