Wes Anderson on Awards Season, Animation and Why He Hasn't Seen Avatar

Wes Anderson knows as well as anybody that around this time every year, we all have it pretty easy predicting the winner of the Best Animated Feature prize at the Oscars -- just inscribe the statuette with Pixar's most recent production, and move along to the harder categories. Not so in 2009, when a surfeit of excellent animation resulted not only in an expansion of the Animated Feature category, but a handful of legitimate contenders to upset Pixar come March. Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of them, a lovingly hand-crafted stop-motion gem that signified a creative milestone for a director long prone to accusations of merely repeating himself with every film. Fox's ambition, warmth, humor and style amount to the most accomplished and mature of Anderson's films to date -- a kid's film for grown-ups, a wry meditation on innocence lost. Those qualities -- not to mention its A-list voice pedigree boasting George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray -- should position Mr. Fox well in the ongoing Oscar race against Up.

Anderson spoke to Movieline last week about making the most of awards season, the virtues of animation versus live-action, how he accidentally cast himself as a weasel, and how the French messed up his plans to see Avatar.

I quite enjoyed your animated acceptance speech from the NBR. How did that idea come about?

It just jumped into my head! I don't know exactly. I just thought, "Well, if I animate something, then I won't have to stand up and say anything in front of anybody else. So that'll take a lot of pressure off me, and I'll have a much better time over the course of the evening."

I would have thought after all the time and effort expended in the feature you might not revisit it again for a while. Like, a long while.

You know, in fact, my colleague, Jeremy Dawson -- who's one of our producers -- his reaction was, "This is just an excuse to do animation." Because even though the movie was a very long process, and it took a long time to figure out how to do it, I really liked doing it very much. I really enjoyed it. We were doing this with an animator who I worked with a lot on the movie, and he's actually a very fast animator. We have such a system in place for how to do it that it was fun to do it -- just to do it.

How did you settle on Weasel for yourself both here and in the movie?

I didn't settle on it. When we recording the voices, we were on this farm in Connecticut when we did our first recordings. We were doing a scene where the weasel real estate agent is showing the house. And I did the voice on that day because we all just had to choose parts. George's part was set, Bill Murray's part was set, Jason Schwartzman's part was set, my brother Eric's part was set. But other people -- me and Jeremy and other friends who were there -- were just playing whatever part needed to be played. For that one, I did a lot of talking at the same time as George. So I was sort of casting myself by virtue of not doing the dialogue carefully enough that I could be removed. But I kind of thought, "Well, I can do fine with this one." So it was just a practicality.

Are you generally pretty happy with how general audiences received Mr. Fox? Do you feel like you or the studio could or should have done anything different?

I couldn't be happier with the way audiences have responded to it, and critics, and things like that. It would be great if we had managed to get more people into the theater. But I'm hoping that we'll do well with it internationally. And then of course there's the DVD and that kind of stuff. But there's no question that it would be great if the film had done better in America.

Your writing and directing is famously rigorous and precise. How did that translate to directing actors in a studio as opposed to on a physical set?

We did most of the recording of the actors on location, in fact. We did some of it outside in nature; we kind of worked in houses and barns. We did some in Italy, and we did some in studios. The funny thing is that with this sort of thing, you can work very quickly because you're not setting up any shots. The blocking is not significant. You're recording rehearsals, basically. We can do it 20 different ways very quickly, and the thing I like about that is that there's tremendous spontaneity in it. That's what I liked. Often I do shots where there's very precise blocking, and the actors have to keep the whole equation in their head and hit a lot of marks as they go along. But with this, the animators had to do that. There's careful planning and precision as far as the animation goes. But for the performances, it was just total spontaneity.

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  • Lolana says:

    OK, so I was expecting from the tease to read something a little more interesting about Why Wes Anderson hasn't seen Avatar, than that he's going to see it in LA where he can see it in 3-D.