Wes Anderson's day of destiny is at hand; after back to back flops, the once untouchable boy genius is on the verge of becoming a cautionary tale of what happens when quirky gets left out in the rain.
Next month, Anderson's animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox, an adaptation of a childrens book by Roald Dahl, hits theaters. It's a project that seems rife for Anderson overload, with room, it would seem, for his trademark cloying kookiness to be shoved into every frame, from the antiquated stop-motion effect, to the concept of a children's story for grown ups to the soundtrack listing also rang plenty of warning bells, with Anderson's repetoire still drawing heavily on the sort of affected, nostalgia numbers that gave an unearned sense of gravity to his past films.
A third flop in a row, however, might condemn Anderson to shooting Amex commercials full time, and this time being told to leave the irony at home.
Well, the first early reviews are in, and those hoping that November 2009 might mark the beginning of the end for Hoodie Nation's cinematic reign of terror are in for a bit of a letdown. Moderately appreciative seems to be the order of the day from the Trades' film critics; admiring but with clear warnings that quirky has Anderson has not in the least walked away from Quirky as his over-arching worldview.
Variety's Todd McCarthy writes of Mr. Fox:
But it's his true character that wins the day, and it's a trait Anderson clearly advocates through his own choices. Employing a deliberately unpolished, herky-jerky style that traces back specifically to Ladislas Starevich's 1941 "The Tale of the Fox" but also variously recalls the imperfect but imperishable stop-motion techniques in the silent "The Lost World," the original "King Kong," the work of Ray Harryhausen, Norman McLaren's "A Chairy Tale" and many others, the film achieves a feel that is at once coarse-grained and elegant, antiquated and the height of fashion.
That said, individual scenes often go off in irritatingly self-indulgent directions, especially when they brush upon lifestyle issues, meditation timeouts and too-cute observations.
And over at the Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden is even more appreciative of the film's over-all effect.
The screenplay sometimes overdoes the winking asides, and the film doesn't so much flow as jump from one set piece to the next. But with animation director Mark Gustafson, DP Tristan Oliver and production designer Nelson Lowry, Anderson has created a world as stylized and inventive as anything he's done. From the fox-red glow of a morning idyll to the noirish gutter scene where one character meets his end to the icy fluorescent glare of the film's closing scene — happy but not without compromise — "Fox" is a visual delight.
And so non-Hoodie America sits and waits that some day will come a pharaoh who will hear our pleas and bring the Age of Quirk to an end.