Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Autuers (For Kids!)

As comic-lovers rejoiced at the latest Comic-Con Festival with the slew of celebrities that came through for a visit (Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp, and Rachel McAdams, just to name a few), movie-lovers were paying attention to the release of two new movie trailers. First, there was the preview for Wes Anderson's new movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, an animated film based on the story by Roald Dahl. The other was a teaser for Tim Burton's elaborate, much-anticipated version of Alice in Wonderland. These two trailers are big deals for two reasons. For one, they're new films by two exceptionally talented, and very popular filmmakers. Also, these new trailers showcase a trend that has arisen in the movies: non-commercial autuers making offbeat children's films.

Along with Burton and Anderson, Spike Jonze is mining the well also, with his film version of the children's book Where The Wild Things Are coming out later this year. Do three directors making kids fare mean there's a trend? Probably not, but it is an interesting coincidence that these three guys, known mostly for their darker material, have decided to market their latest projects toward the same audience who would go to see The Lizzie Maguire Movie.

The all-important question is this: is the young movie-going audience going to beg their parents to take them to Burton's bizarre, almost scary version of Alice? Or Anderson's pithy, dry version of Fantastic Mr. Fox? Or perhaps, Jonze's brooding version of Wild Things? I'm not sure. It's true that each of these guys have their own built-in audiences, Burton especially, but I wonder who could possibly prosper from these puzzling combinations between the wholesome world of family entertainment and the morally-ambiguous territory of the art film.

Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter: one of the most horrifying things that I've ever seen...

Personally, I have varying levels of excitement for all three of these films. I'm anticipating Where The Wild Things Are more than most films that are coming out this fall, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film which has peaked my interest, if only because I will get excited about anything that Wes Anderson does. I'm especially pleased to see that even in animation, Anderson still holds onto his personal visual style and dry sense of humor. As for Alice In Wonderland, the film will probably be a visual wonder, but will be nothing more than cotton candy thematically, because no matter how great his films usually are, they almost always shrivel quickly when it comes to subtext (the two exceptions in his filmography, Big Fish and Ed Wood, are easily his greatest films).

I'm not sure that the concept of the "edgy children's film" is so new. A Christmas Story was taking advantage of this concept over twenty-five years ago. We don't usually see some of the more respected filmmakers of "adult-oriented films", though, plough the wondrous fields world of kiddie movies. Nobody has even seen these films yet, and if they're all terrible then the conversation will be over. I don't think they'll all be terrible, but if they're all great, then it will be interesting to see if this inspires other, more serious filmmakers to tackle the subject matter as well. Who knows? Lars von Trier doing a version of Dumbo? Maybe Paul Thomas Anderson giving a feature-length The Giving Tree a shot? My personal favorite: Darren Aronofsky doing a cataclysmic rendering of Fantasia!

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