“I’ve been spending a lot of time in France recently, but this is the Paris that I remember most in my life,” filmmaker Wes Anderson said last night, standing in front of the screen at New York City’s Paris Theater on 58th St. in Manhattan. Across the street at Bergdorff Goodman’s, the windows of the famous 5th Ave. department store were filled with scenes from his new movie, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Small figurines, adorned in detailed clothing, played out scenes from the animated film about the Fox family.
“This was the first story that stuck in my mind,” praised Anderson, talking about author Roald Dahl’s book “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which he has adapted for the screen (from a screenplay with his friend Noah Baumbach). Before unveiling the film at a gala screening organized by Peggy Siegal and hosted by Fox Searchlight, Anderson brought down cast and crew to join him: Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and his brother Eric Anderson, all of whom contribute their voices to the characters in the film.
Told in stop-motion animation, “Mr. Fox” features a family of foxes who are increasingly at odds with nearby farmers. The elder fox, voiced by George Clooney, has a sly history of farm crime and is having a hard time going straight. He moves his family into a big tree where they live in only momentary tranquility. With an outcast son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), who characterizes himself as “different,” Mr. Fox finds an ally when his agile nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) moves in and he returns to a life of wiley theft. But the young Ash Fox — aiming for the affection of his dad — and at odds in his relationship with his cousin, becomes a part of the intrigue. As do a neighboring badger, rabbit and others.
Ophelia Dahl, the daughter of acclaimed author Roald Dahl, saluted Anderson and company, and their re-working of her dad’s book, a story that she said was one he began telling her as a young child. “It was his imagination that made these characters come to life,” she said, recalling how the tale evolved as he told her the story over the years. Ophelia Dahl also pointed out her mom, Patricia Neal, in the audience and the noted actress received a warm, extended applause from the full house crowd.
The event welcomed an eclectic mix of bold-faced names, from designer Zac Posen and author Jonathan Ames to performers Rosie Perez, Bob Balaban, Woody Harrelson, Olivia Thirlby, and filmmakers Bennett Miller, Nora Ephron, and James Toback. With plenty of kids roaming around for the showing, some folks walked the red carpet outside Bergdorff’s windows wearing velcro neckties fashioned after a fox tail.
At the party later, hosted by Quintessentially at Rouge Tomate around the corner on the Upper East Side, we had a brief moment with actor Willem Dafoe, who is currently on screen in two movies that feature talking foxes, Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist.”
“The truth is, my name probably means ‘the fox’,” Dafoe explained briefly, “It’s probably a variation of a French or Flemish name that means ‘the fox’.”
Anderson’s film debuted as the opening night film of the recent London Film Festival. “I love this book,” Anderson said, in London at the opening, “As a child, it was the first book I ever owned, and obviously my introduction to the work of Roald Dahl, who became one of my heroes. We wrote the script, in part, at his house. And we shot the film at Three Mills Studios in East London… So for me, it’s a British film, and it’s a great pleasure for me to have it premiering at the London Film Festival. Having said that, I’d like to introduce some of my colleagues who helped us to make the film, and they are almost, every last one of them… American.”