He’s the mind behind magic of ‘Mr. Fox’

By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / November 27, 2009

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Early last week, Wes Anderson’s girlfriend had to be in Boston for a day or two. Rather than stay home, he came with her. Anderson is 40, but he seems considerably younger. Not youthful per se, but young. He speaks in long, energetic paragraphs that end when all the necessary information has been delivered. This isn’t as transactional or charmless as it sounds. You can imagine him speaking in the same articulate, thoroughly descriptive manner about love or pizza or doing the laundry. His characters, in such movies as “Rushmore’’ and “The Royal Tenenbaums,’’ express themselves in the same discursive way.

The trip to Boston wasn’t meant to be promotional, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox,’’ Anderson’s handsomely composed stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s slim, strange children’s book, was scheduled to open here soon, and it seemed like a good idea to discuss the movie, so he did. “Mr. Fox,’’ which opened Wednesday, is more or less about a sophisticated clan of animals besieged by farmers hellbent on stopping the critters from stealing their chickens. George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray do some of the voices.

What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of what Anderson had to say.

Q. It’s interesting that in the same year you and Spike Jonze, who made “Where the Wild Things Are,’’ both took children’s books and found inventive ways of making them into movies.

A. It is odd that we’re both doing these books that are coming out at the same time. The funny thing is that I’ve been working on this movie for 10 years. And the first time I met Spike was longer ago than that, and at that time, it was before he directed a feature, and he was working on a film of [the children’s book] “Harold and the Purple Crayon.’’

Q. The strategy you both use is meticulous and handcrafted. There’s modern technology involved, but the effect feels old-fashioned.

A. The cameras we used to shoot were all digital. Each frame taken with that camera is more information than a usual movie frame. We don’t even use movie cameras. We take the picture. It goes into the hard drive and they move the puppets and take another picture. The movie was made by snapping the camera 420,000 times, or something like that.

Q. Are you a taskmaster?

A. I don’t think so. My manner is not brusque. Our cameraman was complaining many months ago, which was a bit silly, I think. In fact, he and I even got to a good place working together.

Q. Did Meryl Streep change the nature of what you were doing?

A. She brought more emotion to the part that I envisioned. But as she was doing it, I was thinking, “This is right. This is what it should be.’’ She’s really taking the character to heart. And I see that this is more painful for this character than I even pictured. I mean it’s in the script. But the way she directed herself in it was even better than what I had in mind. And so I went into other scenes with other characters and thought this should come to where Meryl is.

Q. Do you think you get enough credit for your movies being emotional experiences?

A. I could probably take some knocks for my movies being - well, people will say that sometimes the wallpaper is getting in the way of the suffering. I don’t really see it that way. When I make a movie, it’s my whole life, and these characters are like my family, and it is a sentimental way to look at it. But I think most people who do this kind of work, who make personal films or books, feel that way.

Q. Does it then make it harder to allow a character to die? I’m thinking about “The Royal Tenenbaums,’’ for instance. Did you consider having Luke Wilson’s character, Richie, die?

A. I don’t think I did. I knew that Gene Hackman’s character was going to die. I will say that the scene where Luke’s character tries to kill himself had to be in sequence in a special way because he cuts off all his hair and he cuts off his beard. So we had to shoot everything up to that point, and so Luke and I knew the date it was going to happen and there was all this buildup. It’s not so much a dramatic thing on a movie set to have someone with blood all over them. It is a dramatic thing to cut off somebody’s hair.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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