How fantastic is it?
What is a hipster? Is it people who read McSweeney’s? Listen to Brooklyn-based bands? Wear their suits cut just a little tight (preferably tailored by Band of Outsiders)? Or is it the new addition to the Wes Anderson canon of carefully stylized movies, “Fantastic Mr. Fox“? I must confess a love-hate relationship with all things hipster. My brother is a painter living in Brooklyn (hip), I teach at a Christian college (not hip), Mad Men is my favorite current TV show (hip), I sometimes shop at the Gap (not hip). Now and then, something becomes so hip, it’s no longer hip; but then is just so inherently awesome, it becomes hip again. For examples, see: music on vinyl, graphic novels, Zach Galifianakis and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
I was 22 when I first saw “Rushmore” in the winter of 1999. About to graduate from college, I was convinced no one could possibly understand the delicate mixture of excitement, malaise and romance totally unique to my personal experience. Then I saw Jason Schwartzman in a green velvet suit and red beret and Bill Murray chain smoking in a hospital elevator. “Rushmore” tapped into everything in my world that was funny, sad and hopeful all at once. It was the second feature co-written and directed by a former Texan named Wes Anderson. The film combined an intense attention to detail with a sentimental heart and dry wit. Three features followed, each unique with colorful symmetry and neurotic vulnerability. And now we have “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” A stop motion animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic. After the release this fall of the enigmatically entertaining adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are” (directed by Spike Jonze, co-written by Jonze and Dave Eggars), it seemed suddenly too hip to adapt a children’s book. What’s next? “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Sofia Coppola?
Nonetheless, I rushed out to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox” opening day. Expectations high, I was not disappointed. The film is beautiful, and entertaining. Viewed as a piece of visual art, it’s striking. The color, shot composition, and attention to detail (note the hand stitched sweaters and carefully designed sets) are quite simply breathtaking. And it’s funny. Sure it feels weighed now at times by a heavy star quotient (the cast includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe). But you leave the theater fully satisfied by the simple story, chuckling at the subtle humor, and quietly mulling over the complex commentary on the implication of civilization encroaching on the natural world. At the screening I attended, several parents brought along young children. Like “Wild Things,” “Mr. Fox” is not necessarily a movie for young children. It might just be too strange, too subtle, too ironic, too hip. Then again, maybe not.