Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life Lived in New Light: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fifteen minutes into Fantastic Mr. Fox I smacked a palm to my forehead, stunned by how much good ole-fashioned fun I was having. I'm still trying to figure out exactly how this movie charmed me into such a smile-filled stupor and so far all of my theories have led to some very serious statements about these lil' foxes and badgers and squirrels. Some very serious words, indeed, about all those stop-motion creatures crying in quarries and bounding to the Beach Boys.

Thusly, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a humanist venture, one that dares to stand up for and exemplify community and all the mindbogglingly beautiful shit we can do if we just find a way to hang together and live life. This is no new theme for Wes Anderson who has repeatedly asked his characters (and us kids who identify with them) to abandon the solitary, step out of the isolated tragedy, break from the loneliness and find some wild ride, share some primal scream with other equally lost souls. But in a really odd and totally magical way, Fox unites form and content to articulate Anderson's faith in humanity in fresh terms.

I'm talking about puppets here, people. The twitching whiskers, the nimble claws, the silent, sparkling tears melting to darken a fox snout--this movie is like nothing I've ever seen. Anderson and the army of craftsmen behind him were going for a "homemade look" and, coming from such an unwaveringly hip perfectionist, I expected Fox to look a bit clinical in its stylistic calculations. I figured that if allowed to make his pallet wholly from scratch, Anderson would delve so far into the world of patterns and coordination and symmetry and precision that Fox would fail to find the humanity we cling to in creations like Margot and Richie Tenenbaum or Max Fischer. I thought that without the limitations of the human face, Anderson's inherent will toward the indulgent would run wild and make me puke a little. But good gawd how wrong I was! The figures in Fox dress well, their faces wear honest emotion, and their comedic timing is impeccable, but you can feel the weight of human effort behind all of these minor miracles. They move swiftly through their animated world but each of their steps speaks of the arduous stop-motion machinery at work.

Perhaps Fox feels so special because my mind's tacit comparison is to the smooth stylings of Pixar and the sharp magic of the big Anime artists, but the importance of Fox feels beyond comparisons limited to the animated world. The craftsmanship, artistry, collaboration, time, and love that went into this film are recorded in its very texture, in the rush of falling water or a patch of mussed fur. It looks like these animals were cared for from their inception, their movements all careful, continuously affected by mindful human intervention. This world was raised by a whole bunch of human dreams! And the widespread energy and faith that made those dreams a reality seeps from the film's pores.

Great amounts of hard work always lurk somewhere in a film's final cut, but the forces of the cinematic illusion and the human actor work arduously to cover up the process, to present the final show as a complete, united work, like it was born whole. Fox bares its fingerprints proudly, joyfully (!), and the effect is endearing in a kind of whole-body way. It made me feel nostalgic but I don't know what for. And I think this human ingenuity, this hidden community of craftiness, and the lovely animated world it produces finds a perfect match in Wes Anderson's penchant for the sprint, the romp, the deep breath and plunge, the desperate reach for life. Mr. and Mrs. Fox's opening love-soaked mad dash to steal chickens is Royal Tenenbaum and his sweat-suited nephews' bus-ride/canon-ball/dog-fighting escapade in new clothes, but here, in the very texture of these lil' foxes' leaps and smirks, we find a remnant of the real-world dream lived--a communion of creativity. So that this time around when Wes Anderson told me I could do it all and have it all and really live if I just spread out my arms and flew, I was given a whole new way to believe him.


Ryland Walker Knight said...

Great! Can't wait even more. You've got me excited, girl.

maxineguess said...