By Susan Wloszczyna, USA TODAY
Ever since he asked stop-motion specialist Henry Selick to create exotic sea creatures for 2004’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson has been enamored with this painstaking process of animation.
But patiently posing puppets for a brief segment was nothing compared with doing an entire feature like The Fanastic Mr. Fox, one populated with a zoo’s worth of woodland creatures.
“I wasn’t really prepared for what it would take,” says Anderson, who began developing the project filmed in East London five years ago with Selick on board until he dropped out to direct Coraline. “I thought I would do the script, work on designs and with the actors. I didn’t think I would be so involved with the actual production. Just shooting is all-consuming.”
But with guidance from animation director Mark Gustafson, Anderson was able to mix his own eccentricities into the medium.
“In animation, the tradition is to make everything smooth and beautiful,” he says. “That wasn’t my instinct. Using puppets with fur appealed to me. It’s why I wanted to do the film in stop-motion. Usually fur is considered bad news. But I liked how it moves around by itself. It’s funny.”
The art form also allowed Anderson to indulge his fixation with just-so props, scenery design and wardrobe.
Take Mr. Fox’s tight-fitting suit. “Wes was very specific about the jacket,” says producer Allison Abbate. “He wanted a brown corduroy suit. I looked at him and said, ‘You’re wearing that.’ He got the fabric sample from the same New York tailor who makes his suits.”
Though the voice cast includes many Anderson regulars, such as Bill Murray as a lawyer badger, there are notable newcomers. George Clooney lends Mr. Fox his matinee-idol mystique and dry humor, and Meryl Streep is his loving if suspicious wife.
Why did the Oscar queen decide to speak for a she-mammal? As she says, “When else am I going to be Mrs. George Clooney?”