One of the consolations of art is that it can be used to remake the world, up to a point. And this consolation applies as much to the artist doing the remaking as it might to the consumer of the resultant art product. "Wes Anderson fans will note that Mr. Fox's wardrobe bears an uncanny resemblance to the suits the director wore during his clipped haircut/pre contact-lens phase," my friend Kent Jones says in his terrific Film Comment cover essay on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson's new film, a stop-motion animated adaptation of a Roald Dahl wryly-funny-animal tale. I imagine it must have been fun for Anderson to reinvent a former self of his as a snappy, clever, fun-loving semi-rogue who's also an idiosyncratic, self-appointed savior to his community. Just as I imagine it had to have been at least a bit sadly self-knowing of him to give the obsessive, self-deluding, heartbroken, and finally suicidal Richie Tenenbaum that camel-hair jacket.
Both God and the devil are in the details, and art can grow more consoling and transporting the more richly detailed it is. I spoke with Kent about the film a little after he first saw it, which was a few weeks before I did; he said, "It's completely a Wes Anderson movie," and thinking about the source material and the medium I wondered how it could be, but of course it absolutely is, for how could it not be. And part of what makes in completely an Anderson movie is its attention to detail. Look at Mr. and Mrs. Fox's hands in the shot above, the little claws. The terribly, terribly odd painting on the wall. The acorns on the wallpaper. Yes, I know, every production designer worth his or her salt is going to be this invested in detail, but it's the character of the detail I'm talking about. The way the lampshade is askew. The intimation of terror in the painting.
The constant push-and-pull between the light and the dark that's always been a salient characteristic of Anderson's films is made even more blatant here by the fact that this is literally an animated film. Even the putatively "lo-fi" quality of the animation—which leaves the animators' fingerprints, such as they are, literally on the fur of it anthropomorphized critters—speaks to this over-theme, preempting our full investment in the film's invented world.
And for all that this is a picture that is, besides clever and inventive, often genuinely sweet, and something that in its putative old-fashioned-ness still looks and feels like nothing you've ever seen before. The voice cast is superb. George Clooney's latter-day Rat Pack bluff as the title character exists to be peculiarly undercut, and Streep's Mrs. Fox has a, yes, sexiness that makes even her scoldings somewhat inviting. Jason Schwartzman is rather moving as Mr. Fox's putatively underachieving son, whose moment of triumph arrives precisely on account of the fact that he's "little," and Bill Murray's Badger is, well, Bill Murray's Badger. Even my old old pal Mario Batali, not generally noted for his vocal stylings, is impeccable as Rabbit.
As the picture whizzes by, it's a fantastic amount of fun, but at the same time, it never tries to hide its dark, peculiar undercurrents, because what would the point of that be? Fox is not just an exemplary Anderson picture, but in a way provides a key to an enhanced appreciation of his prior works.