So hipsters apparently hate Wes Anderson for his brand
of corduroy shellacked, indie coopting and twee spewing. Perhaps this was justified as the decline in quality of his movies (and American Express commercial) in recent years has been noticeable.
But right now, don’t hate. Appreciate. Because The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a triumph, and Inverted Soapbox Heartily Endorses you going to see it.
Part of the reason it succeeds so well is that it uses the stylized talents of Anderson as a vehicle to let the speculative forces of Roald Dahl’s imagination push through. The film is funny and sweet, intelligent and creative in ways we haven’t seen in any films by Anderson (or any other director). Sitting in the theater last weekend, the first indication that everything with this movie is going to be all right is the opening shot and title card: a stop motion but realistic-looking hardcover version of the Dahl book looking like it was pulled directly from the shelves of my elementary school library, its Dewey Decimal System code visible on its spine.
I owe a special debt to Dahl for being the linchpin author who first — an enduringly — tethered me to a love of reading, and, by extension, the world of words and writing which has landed me where I am today (wherever that might be). I couldn’t count the times I spent sitting in the elementary school library reading and re-reading Matilda or The Twits. And my ardent advocacy on behalf of reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was probably my first sliver of inclination toward hipster snobbishness (“Sure, Chocolate Factory is OK, if you like overly commercial products. But have you read the sequel? I didn’t think so. Now give me back my Lion-O sword and put your Mumm-Ra hood back on.”)
Roald Dahl’s appeal was in his portrayal of childhood subversiveness, the fighters of youth gathered against the conspiratorial brooding of parents, adults, farmers, giants, whathaveyou. It wasn’t all broad brush — he used sniveling children and kindly adults to demarcate shifting boundaries and identities in a world where hope remains that betting on the good in the world is still rewarding.
It’s part of the reason I got hooked on Harry Potter so instantly — JK Rowling merges imagination and plot at points of familial lineage to the ones Dahl created years ago. We should take this moment to appreciate the delicacy of crafting smart, enjoyable, richly-bodied children’s literature, as we watch less-skilled writers rake in the allowance money.
Scouring for Roald Dahl clips today, I found this, an excerpt from a most certainly bizarre and … quirky … British programme, The South Bank Show from 1986. What he’s describing here to is essentially the set up for the plot of The Witches (also made into a movie starring Angelica Houston). It’s worth it just to see the random guest appearance (in witch drag!) at the very end of the clip.
Also, he was in the Royal Air Force and was an MI-6 agent.