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Arrested Developments

Indie auteurs are lining up to direct kiddie movies. Is Mr. Fox guarding the henhouse?

Author Gene Seymour Photography Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

WHEN A FAMILY FILM IS GOOD, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad, it’s Tom and Jerry: The Movie. For years, these pictures have mostly been the province of workaday directors-plodding types who know how to amuse a kindergartner, if not his parents. But a new generation of filmmakers -never-grow-up Gen-Xers, mostly-are embracing the G-rated genre. In the wake of Where the Wild Things Are, by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), our nation’s youth will be lining up- Hollywood hopes-for Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson, the dandyish director behind The Royal Tenenbaums.

Such pairings may seem chancy, but there’s some recent precedent: Indiefilm renegade Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) managed to create his own familyfriendly franchise, the Spy Kids trilogy, outside of the Hollywood system. And Tim Burton, who’s carried his penchant for dark whimsy from the gothic corridors of Edward Scissorhands into such family-friendly territory as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is prepping Alice in Wonderland for a March release.

Jonze has said that in recreating the antic nightmares of a moody child, he wanted to “capture the feeling of what it is to be nine,” but the approach has generated some controversy. “Making a movie from the point of view of a child is not the same as making a childfriendly movie,” Variety reporter Anne Thompson notes pointedly.

Fantastic Mr. Fox may be just as risky in choosing to jettison digital animation for an old-time stop-motion process. Still, given Anderson’s penchant for stories about self-obsessed control freaks (we’re looking at you, Steve Zissou), Roald Dahl’s suavely domineering furry beast seems tailormade for the director’s sensibilities.

Meanwhile, similar projects are in the pipeline: David Fincher (Fight Club) is at work on a big-screen version of the comic book The Goon. And Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) is set to direct an animated remake of Dahl’s The Witches, scripted by Alfonso Cuarón, who himself went from a sexy indie breakthrough (Y Tu Mamá También) to Harry Potter-ville.

If Fox is a hit, look for auteur kiddie flicks to become a bona fide trend. Who’s up for Quentin Tarantino’s Harriet the Spy?

Film critic GENE SEYMOUR thought Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 adaptation of The Witches was just fine, thank you.

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