Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson Talks Puppetry Perfection

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There’s a lot of competition this week for your Thanksgiving movie dollars. You’ve got the bloody martial arts of “Ninja Assassin.” The apocalyptic chills of “The Road.” But I’m rooting for a dark horse – or dark fox, rather – to take the crown this holiday weekend.

For all us elitist media types, Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is already old news; it hit theaters in New York and Los Angeles two weeks ago, and it’s been playing to packed crowds ever since. But for the rest of the country, these sarcastic stop-action foxes, rats and badgers don’t debut on the big screen until later this week. And boy is America in for an inventive, ingenious visual feast. The stop-action techniques incorporated by Anderson’s team are intimate and involving – you can see the fur ruffle on these miniature faces with every move, and it’s hard not to marvel at the sophistication of all these tiny costumes and sets. This is a whole universe unto itself; my favorite image is probably the stop-action toy train, chugging ’round and ’round in a boy’s bedroom.

The story plays out with the same awkward whimsy of every Wes Anderson adventure (some family scenes could be pulled straight from the dysfunctional townhouse of “The Royal Tenenbaums”), but this barnyard cast is anything but impersonal. I realize George Clooney, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and company offered up only their words for the film, but these voices, modulating from whispers to yelps and all variety of barnyard sounds, go beyond your standard line reading. There’s some serious personality on display.

Maybe that’s because Anderson had the actors stage their scenes together on the grounds of a Connecticut farm. When their critters are riding a motorcycle, Anderson had Clooney record his lines atop a motorcycle. When they are supposed to be digging through the dirt, Anderson had the actors dig in the dirt. Not only did the filmmaker set up a whole battery of live streaming cameras, where he could look at every possible angle of a scene under construction, but he then hosted an elaborate camping trip for his actors where the A-listers got in touch with their inner barnyard maniac. Sound silly? Maybe. But I’m telling you: You can hear the difference in the finished product.

Anderson sat down with Techland the day before the film’s East Coast premiere, eager to talk about the voicing process, his favorite moments, and his obsessive attention to detail.  The video’s posted above.

That said, I’m already getting psyched to see “Fox” again – probably with my parents Thursday afternoon. My dad’s sure to love the motorcycle chase; my mom will love the way these critters dance as they dig. My brother, though? There’s the debate: I’m guessing he’ll giggle at the dim-witted possum. Or the “West Side Story” rodent. He used to be in show choir, after all. Tenor.

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