The Oscar nominations came out Tuesday morning. Pixar’s Up already won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Film. It shouldn’t have. The movie is on par with Pixar’s others, which of course means it is very good: characteristically inventive, incisive, and attractive. But Up was not the best animated film of 2009. The best animated film of 2009 was Fantastic Mr. Fox. We can hope the Academy recognizes this fact in March.
Fox was directed by auteur Wes Anderson, the patron filmmaker of young white aesthetes everywhere. His other movies (Rushmore, The Royal Tenebaums, The Life Aquatic) feature manicured sets populated by Bill Murray and a rotation of clever narcissistic oddballs, often posing in slow motion to the beat of the British Invasion hits. The standard critiques can be found here and here. You either love it or you hate it.
With Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was created using stop-motion animation, Anderson’s talents are nearly perfectly utilized. In his usual movies, Anderson’s obsessive visual style can make the characters feel very arranged, like they know we know this is a movie, and they must pause for effect before saying this so-ironic-it’s-not-ironic-line—now! In Fox Anderson’s creativity is given more natural expression, as every single detail, puppets included, responds to his little artistic fingers. By making the visual material less representational (this does not mean fake—compared to Up the 18-inch puppets nearly beg you to pet their little twee outfits and fur) the occasional dramatic dialogue is refreshingly resonate. When Mrs. Fox tells Mr. Fox “I love you, but I shouldn't have married you,” the sentiment feels more human than most in Anderson’s other movies.
Saying this usually induces eye rolling, but the movie really is worth catching in the theater. Anderson has said he plans on filming humans in his next project but does not rule out attempting another film in stop-motion. We can hope this happens. In the mean time, if you’ve already seen the movie or want just a sample before committing an evening, watch this animated acceptance speech Anderson created for the recent National Board of Review.