Go, Go, Stop-motion!

We live in an age of computer-generated animation, which has caused many cinephiles to lament the impending death of traditional hand-drawn animation. Thankfully, Disney hasn’t given up on that old horse (and won’t as long as little girls keep wanting to throw princess-themed tea parties). But what about the third type of animation? The kind in which filmmakers laboriously set up detailed puppet figures and take about a billion still shots of them, painstakingly readjusting the dolls and mini-scenery bits with hair’s-breadth movements between each and every click of the camera? Thank goodness Fantastic Mr. Fox is keeping stop-motion animation alive.

Stop-motion will always be the most awe-inspiring method for making inanimate objects look like they’re moving. That’s mostly because the process is so incredibly hard. Sure, it might look a little hokey sometimes, and no one will ever mutter in amazement about how lifelike it all looks, as they may do during a Pixar film. But stop-motion animation has an indelible charm that is entirely unique to the art form.

Ever since the sixties, though—when Rankin & Bass filled our holiday television programming with jerky, dancing elves and early FX master, Ray Harryhausen, set clay monsters against Greek gods in adventure movies—stop-motion has been a rare treat for moviegoers. And when Aardman Studios, the people behind the adorably doughy Wallace and Gromit, quit the Claymation business and put out their first CGI feature, Flushed Away, I thought that was the end.

With Aardman out of the game, all we had left was Henry Selick, whose deliciously spooky Coraline looked so smooth on screen, I actually worried that it might have been computer graphics made to look like stop-motion animation. But now we can add indie-auteur Wes Anderson to the short list of keepers of the stop-motion torch. Fantastic Mr. Fox—which has thus far garnered glowing reviews—should go a long way toward inspiring all those kids out there who film mini stop-motion shorts of their Lego figures dancing and post it on YouTube, and tell them all that if they’ve got the patience, they’ll also get the audience.

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