The Auteur Series: Wes Anderson

Cover of "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"

Cover of The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Because of all the buzz about Wes Anderson in recent months (due to his exceptionally well-received film Moonrise Kingdom), I think it is high time for a retrospective look at his adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s Fantastic Mr. Fox – a film that, prior to Moonrise Kingdom, was second only to Anderson’s Rushmore in terms of critical acclaim.

Fantastic Mr. Fox works on so many levels. First, it stays faithful in spirit to Dahl’s simple story of a wily and well-spoken fox outwitting three wicked farmers. The humor is dry. The animals are imbued with far more humanity than the humans. Family, community, and resourcefulness triumph.

And yet Wes Anderson has at the same time shaped Dahl’s story into something wholly his own. Building on the infrastructure of Dahl’s story, Anderson adds his own beginning and ending, fleshes out the characters, adds new ones, and infuses the whole romp with myriad minute details in signature Anderson fashion. While still keeping much of the dialogue and action the same, Anderson suffuses the story with the themes his fans have come to expect: awkward family relationships (often rife with rivalries), strained marriages, estranged fathers, precocious children, and childlike adults. And it goes without saying that Anderson manages to infuse into each beautifully stop-motion animated scene his characteristic framing, pacing, music, and warm colors and textures.

While full of enough colorful detail, hilarious animal capers, and thrilling close escapes to keep kids engrossed, Fantastic Mr. Fox has just as much (perhaps more) to offer to the adult viewer. This is a remarkable children’s adaptation in that, instead of the usual stripping down and padding up with fart jokes and fluffy action that most children’s adaptations undergo, Anderson’s adaptation instead  builds upon and gives endless new layers of enjoyment to Dahl’s story, but in a way that still feels warm and true to the classic book.

Anderson’s films are well-known – and often mocked by his detractors – for their recurrent themes, actors, and indie stylings. Yet his two most recent films – Fantastic Mr. Fox and now Moonrise Kingdom – seem to show that Anderson does best when he returns to the terrain of one of his earliest, and still most critically acclaimed, films: Rushmore. Wes Anderson knows how to capture a child’s story, whether it be in the form of a beloved children’s classic, or an awkward and reminiscent coming of age story.

It is almost as if he is coming into his own.

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Peter Pan never gets old.

Gary Ross is officially set to direct Peter and the Starcatchers! You can read about it here.

Peter Pan, ever timeless, seems to be having a moment similar to the one it enjoyed several years ago when an exceptional new adaptation and the lovely biopic of sorts, Finding Neverland, came out within the space of about a year. I am already predicting that Starcatchers will be one of the more worthwhile of the numerous Peter Pan spinoffs that are scheduled to (or have already, for that matter) hit screens of various sizes within the next couple of years.

Picture found here

Some favorite children’s books set to hit the big screen…

Due to a bit of family upheaval, the rather unexpected offer, acceptance and commencement of a new job in New York City, and a number of small moves around the city, I’ve been sufficiently distracted in the past few months to keep me away from this blog. There has, however, been no shortage of exciting news when it comes to new developments in the world of cinematic children’s and YA book adaptations! Here are some of the more salient announcements from the last few months:

Pinnocchio

Guillermo del Toro, visionary director behind the beautiful and disturbing Pan’s Labyrinth and producer for a surprising number  of other children’s films, will be directing a new version of Pinocchio. Judging by some of the additional talent behind this adaptation and a few first glimpses of the film’s concept art, this film promises to show us Pinocchio as we’ve never seen him before. Never a great fan of the Disney version, I’m not complaining.

Read more about it here.

Clifford

Clifford the Big Red Dog has recently been set for a new big-screen adaptation. The new production looks to have a solid team behind it, and (however far-fetched this hope is) if they stay true to the sweet and simple tone of the original book(s) that I remember pouring over at as a child, we could have an endearing family film on our hands within a few years.

Read more about it here.

Frog and Toad

Frog and Toad are Friends

Frog and Toad are Friends (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m very excited to report that Frog and Toad, a magical series of books adored by the last couple generations of readers, looks as if it is finally making it to the big screen. Although I still love the 1980’s claymation shorts that I grew up watching, it’s about time for Frog and Toad to get an update. With The Jim Henson Company very aptly behind the forthcoming film, I think we are safe in saying that the project has been placed in very capable hands.

Read more about it here.

Peter and the Starcatchers

Cover of "Peter and the Starcatchers"

Cover of Peter and the Starcatchers

Director Gary Ross seems to be developing an affinity for doing YA film adaptations.

There is a strong possibility he’ll be directing an adaption of Peter and the Starcatchersa hilarious and engrossing Peter Pan origins story that I devoured when it first came out, and that has just this year been made into an award-winning off-Broadway production.

After his solid work on The Hunger Games, I’m certainly on board for a Peter Pan prequel helmed by Gary Ross.

Read more about it here.

I had originally planned on posting my own review of Wes Anderson‘s recently released tribute to childhood, Moonrise Kingdom, but upon reading Brett McCracken’s own lucidly expressed thoughts on the film, I quickly lost this resolve.

The Search

A few hours before I watched Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, I was watching the undergraduate commencement ceremony at Biola University. It made me nostalgic to see 670 seniors receive their diplomas and officially conclude a long chapter in their journeys. I remember being there myself, seven years ago at Wheaton College, “commencing” a pivotal new chapter as my 22 years of being a kid gave way to the new adventure of independent adulthood. What a memorable moment, graduation day–abuzz as it was with the teetering uncertainty of the liminal spaces which were its backdrop: between youth, inexperience and protection on one hand and adulthood, maturity and risk on the other. Everything then was new, curious, possible. The world was there to be explored; adulthood to be experimented with.

Moonrise Kingdom dwells in a similar liminal space: between the innocence, wonder and “firsts” of childhood on one hand and the…

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Wonderstruck: Selznick gives us another cinematically inclined book.

via borders.com

via borders.com

I recently had the opportunity to read author/illustrator Brian Selznick’s latest, Wonderstruck, a book that in many ways continues what Selznick started with his 2008 Caldecott Medal-winning book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Wonderstruck, like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is a cinematic book—not only in the gorgeous and wholly unique synthesis of word and illustration, but also in its contextual interest in the history of film. While Hugo Cabret dwells on the magic of earliest cinema, one storyline in Wonderstruck explores the transition from silent film to sound through the eyes of a deaf girl. Such a subtext is perfect in a book told in two such parallel storylines—one storyline told in words, one in pictures. I am not giving too much away in saying that the deaf character’s story plays out like a silent film.  Selznick tells her story almost entirely in hundreds of luminous black and white pencil sketches.

Seeing the transition from silent to sound film unfold through the eyes of an early twentieth century deaf girl gives that moment in history a whole new perspective. But the exploration of cinematic history is not the focus of this book in the same way that it was the focus of Hugo Cabret. While both books do share the same themes of gaining a sense of belonging and discovering one’s place in the world, Wonderstruck has many fascinating layers aside from the cinematic. New York City history, deaf culture, and the fascinating story of the American Museum of Natural History are all dimensions of this well-crafted and visually captivating narrative.

Such a unique array of themes and subplots render this a book that refreshes our perspective on how we see and hear our world  and the people that inhabit it. This book is indeed a wonder to behold in its varying shades—thematic and artistic—of black and white, light and sound.

I do have to say, one wonders if Selznick’s next book might perhaps include a narrative commentary on the advent of color cinema?

Book illustration found here.

Something to look forward to: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

via imdb.com

I keep hearing wonderful things about “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Drama at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The trailer finally debuted last week, giving us a glimpse at what all the buzz is about and rendering this film one of my most anticipated of the summer. It looks to be a thing of wonder and beauty.

Here is Metacritic’s summary of what makes this film so worthy of anticipation:

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” won both the Grand Jury Prize and Excellence in Cinematography at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and garnered comparisons to fairy tales, parables and the works of Terence Malick and Hayao Miyazaki. Those comparisons make immediate sense when you watch the first official trailer for the film, which comes to a handful of theaters on June 27th. The film follows Hushpuppy and her father Wink, who live in an abstract water-world in Louisiana known as “The Bathtub.” They struggle to survive when their community is threatened by a devastating flood and an approaching herd of beasts known as aurochs. Writer/director Ben Zeitlin adapted co-writer Lucy Alibar’s play Juicy and Delicious, cast non-actors, and collaborated with his Court 13 collective to create a unique vision that looks both familiar and magical.

One of the very young director’s first films was shot in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and both his parents are urban folklorists. This unique personal context looks as if it was influential in the film’s overall vision and tone.

You can visit the film’s site here.