Writer-director Wes Anderson has faced about a half decade of critical backlash—but you wouldn’t know it from the enthusiastic response to his latest trailer. When we posted it here on Thursday, hundreds of readers shared it within minutes. Most fans have seemed overjoyed. (Jason Kottke declared, “It’s Wes Andersonmas, y’all!”) Still, a significant minority declared it “self-parody.”
This is the most common critique of Anderson’s work: that over time his meticulous stylistic tics have crowded out all emotional substance. The word dollhouse is thrown around, connoting not just the minute attention Anderson bestows upon his sets and costume design, but also the opinion that he’s a bit "girlish"—that he needs to confront the real world, maybe get down in the dirt or work with his hands. (Perhaps it’s time to make a war movie?) In short: Grow up.
For the slide show below, we’ve identified several of the signature elements of a Wes Anderson film, checked off the extent to which each has appeared in each of his previous trailers, and assembled the results. From this, we’ve attempted to measure, scientifically, the extent to which the Moonrise Kingdom trailer represents Anderson’s development, arrested or otherwise.
After hitting his critical peak somewhere between Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson’s star has fallen steadily ever since. Even Fantastic Mr. Fox—which many exempted on the grounds that it was a stop-motion adaption of a children’s book, and so an appropriate opportunity for a director to play with dolls—seemed in part a defense of quirk. (The movie’s titular line concludes: “We’re all different. Especially [Mr. Fox]. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?”)
Auteurs are usually allowed their signature shots—all but one of Anderson’s films ends with a slow-motion shot of walking—but with Anderson it sometimes seems every aspect of his style has become a signature. 1960s British and European rock, snap zooms and whip pans, overhead shots of books and workspaces, the presence of precocious children and Bill Murray, and on and on. (Indeed, breaking down Anderson’s style has become something of a national pastime: Yesterday, IndieWire posted a similar breakdown of the Moonrise Kingdom trailer, just as we were finalizing our own.)
A comparison can be made with Quentin Tarantino, whom critics have also accused of being all style and no substance. But the backlash with Anderson has been more severe. Why? Perhaps because Anderson’s influence has been even more pervasive than Tarantino’s. But that’s not all. Anderson’s influences are generally more highbrow and often more obscure, which can read less like sheer enthusiasm and more like snobbery. His movies can also feel troublingly white and decidedly upper (or at least upper-middle) class. But even when Anderson tries something new, like making a period film, or working with child leads, the loudest groans arise from the sense that each Wes Anderson film is even more Andersonian than the last. It’s that claim that we wanted to give a closer look.