"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."
I'm not sure why Anderson's recent movies have gone badly. All seem like different expressions of an artist's singular voice — each unique in its own way yet instantly recognizable as an Anderson film.
There's a scene in The Darjeeling Limited that crystallizes that voice and the deep, inchoate weltschmerz Anderson seems to have been grappling with since Bottle Rocket. In it, the lovely train attendant with whom Schwartzman's Jack (as in Nicholson) has become infatuated asks him, "What is wrong with you?" as he and his brothers are being kicked off the train.
"Let me think about that. I'll tell you next time I see you," Jack replies, staring after her as the train pulls away.
"I feel like, 'What's wrong with you?' — that could almost be addressed to practically my entire circle of friends," Anderson says. "The world is saying that to us, 'What's wrong with you?' When you ask me, 'What are you grappling with?' That's more or less. ..." He pauses and laughs. "Let me think about it and I'll tell you the next time I see you. I don't really know, but it's kind of vast enough that you can sink your teeth into it."
We say our good-byes, and I wonder as I drive north on a tidy side street if it'll be another 10 years before he can tell me. Then, I see a figure striding through the Beverly Hills flats with the late-afternoon sun reflecting off his corduroy suit like it would a shield. There are no people anywhere and the trees are little and white and the Spanish-style houses are little and white and the yards are precisely manicured. There's nothing out of the ordinary going on here, other than somebody walking in L.A. And yet, for some reason, the whole thing strikes me as the loneliest thing on Earth. I pull over and ask if he wants a lift.