Sometime between viewing Fantastic Mr. Fox (screening at LACMA tonight) and finishing off Matt Zoller Seitz’s five-part video essay on Wes Anderson, I rediscovered the affective themes that lay among the (meticulous) craftwork of Anderson’s films. Aspiration, disappointment, longing, and estrangement direct his bands of outsiders, a family of some sort caught in mid-transformation or already reassembled in a post-domestic formation like a badly healed broken limb.
It might be easy to catalog Anderson’s signature tropes, tendencies, and textures (and Zoller Seitz does one better by throwing in Anderson’s varied influences). Like a Sunday-strip cartoonist, he renders each scene with a distinctive touch; well-appointed mise-en-scene and a comprehensive sense of production design replace the draftsman’s stroke. And that’s without mentioning his way with words and the modulation of tonality, inflection, and rhythm among the spoken parts.
Of course Fantastic Mr. Fox is firstly a breathless entertainment, perhaps the most fleet-footed work in the director’s filmography. Like Arnaud Desplechin, whose dialogue with Anderson appears the latest issue of Interview, Anderson is prone to jolting inventiveness and sudden spurts of activity (not to mention that both directors share a somewhat caustic view of the familial and an unflagging affinity for the black sheep). But unlike the hectic, nervous energy in a Desplechin film, an Anderson picture is crisply precise and exact. His lithe set pieces have an almost panoramic breadth, while he maintains a hawk-eyed attention to minute details. An animated film, particularly one that uses analog techniques that traffic not only in nostalgia but in its inevitably bittersweet side effects, is more than an inevitable choice for this meticulous filmmaker, it’s an inspired experiment in lyrical screwball.