What's Wrong With Wes Anderson?

A decade after Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Generation Y's anointed auteur tries for a comeback with Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Anderson also concedes that some of the recent criticism has gotten into his head.

"I think certain criticisms that I've heard about myself repeatedly start to linger," he says, looking out the window, almost embarrassed for exposing himself in this way. "The things that I think about are whether or not I'm telling the same kind of family stories and whether these movies are so meticulously art-directed or organized that people can't get into the story. I feel like with Darjeeling Limited, I got a lot of people saying I was repeating certain things. But for me, I was doing a movie in India about these three brothers and those things are different. I mean, it's in India. It's a completely different movie.

"In the end, I just do whatever I do, probably," he says.

In some ways, Fantastic Mr. Fox can be seen as a referendum on what Anderson does. As with Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, goodwill toward the source material isn't in question. And it's unlikely that studios will continue to fork over Life Aquatic— or Fox-size budgets to Anderson without some evidence he can pay them off.

To his credit, Anderson hasn't let the pressure of dealing with either a sacred text or his recent track record cow him: Fox is a Wes Anderson movie through and through, despite the curious absence of the director's name from distributor 20th Century Fox's early marketing campaign. In fact, it might be the most Anderson movie to date, seeing as he designed every aspect of it from scratch, including the vulpine principals and their coalition of furry friends. To say the movie is meticulously art-directed is an understatement. In many ways, it is art direction.

"I liked the idea of just doing a movie where we could build the whole movie, and working in miniatures is kind of interesting because, in a live-action movie, you're not designing somebody's face and you're rarely designing a tree, you know?" Anderson says. "That was something that appealed to me. Building landscapes and things like that."

To get the film's look and feel right, Anderson visited Dahl's widow, Felicity, at the late author's estate in Buckinghamshire, England.

"When I was there, it was really muddy. It was the fall, or maybe the winter, and it was not like a green, English wonderland at that time. And I started taking pictures around his house and said, 'Let's build this little bit of landscape,' and had this thing of keeping it really fall type of colors," he recalls. "So everything was [about] taking pictures of landscapes or objects, tons of things from Dahl's house, and making them in miniature."

Visually, the film is a masterwork, and all the justification anyone should need for Anderson's insistence on applying old-fashioned techniques to what has become filmmaking's most progressive idiom — animation. In Fox, the textured, burnished, autumnal hues evoke an endless pumpkin patch in a New England October. Fur bristles, wind blows across meadows, sunlight radiates — the whole thing feels as tactile and pregnant as a field ready for harvest.

To write the screenplay, Anderson moved into Dahl's house for two weeks with his friend and sometimes collaborator Noah Baumbach, the writer and director of Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale. But whom, I ask Anderson, did they have in mind for the film's audience when crafting the script?

"I don't know what our audience is," he says. "I certainly sat down to write it as a children's film and we didn't do anything while we were writing it to make it more adult. We didn't really do much to try to make it more for children, either."

The film has gotten rave early notices, critics calling it a return to form. Personally, I was left scratching my head at the end, wondering what's so fantastic about a fox whose ego and narcissism damn his family and friends to a life eating processed grocery-store food in a sewer system far beneath the gorgeous landscape the director rendered with so much love. It seems no cause for celebration, yet that's how it's played. And the celebration feels forced and tacked on — a concession one wonders if Anderson would have made a few years ago.

After everything has been eaten, including the pancakes, and the sun is starting to set, casting a soft glow right out of Fantastic Mr. Fox, I ask Anderson what his biggest surprise and biggest disappointment have been over the past 10 years.

"What is a nice surprise is to have with Jumon, my girlfriend, this sort of life in Paris, for instance, that we know how to do," he says. "We know how to survive and have a nice time there and function in what was once to me a distant, exotic place."

"Does it still feel romantic there, the way you thought it would be?"

"Yeah, and I feel like it always will, because of the history. That will not go away, the history of that place. A negative would be ... for me, the hardest things are just the movies you spend years on. Not everybody's occupation in their life is [about] this moment where it's kind of yes, or no, where there's a kind of deciding moment for the three years you just spent. And when the movie comes out, it can go badly."

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