The Hidden Dimension

I saw this final paragraph from Roger Ebert's review of Fantastic Mr. Fox, and I thought it perfectly aligned with my thoughts on Hayao Miyazaki's films like Ponyo.  This is a paragraph that should be framed and hung in the wall of writers and storytellers everywhere:

Like the hero of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," also based on one of his books, the creatures of Dahl's valley seem to know more than they're letting on; perhaps even secrets we don't much want to know. Children, especially, will find things they don't understand, and things that scare them. Excellent. A good story for children should suggest a hidden dimension, and that dimension of course is the lifetime still ahead of them. Six is a little early for a movie to suggest to kids that the case is closed. Oh, what if the kids start crying about words they don't know? -- Mommy, Mommy! What's creme brulee?" Show them, for goodness sake. They'll thank you for it. Take my word on this.

The Hidden Dimension.  I think that's a key factor in great storytelling.  It's kind of like Super Mario Brothers, with coin boxes buried in the walls and hidden pipes just off the screen.  Not everything needs to be shown or explained away.  The mystery itself is sufficient.  I think this was a point of contention for many Western viewers where Ponyo was concerned, but I think it's a great movie because of it.


Serhei said...

I haven't seen Fantastic Mr. Fox yet, but every single frame of it that I *have* seen begs to be printed extra large and gazed at for hours. Far more than any of the other Wes Anderson movies, which are drab and empty in comparison. That's one heck of a thing for an animated movie to achieve.

The downside: seeing the trailer in the cinema, with 24 of these glorious frames whipping by every second or two, almost gave me a headache. Almost. Thankfully it was all over in two minutes.

So I'm waiting for the opportunity to watch it on a smaller screen. Definitely going to see it. It tickles that urge to observed civilized talking animals in their natural habitat that was awakened by Wind in the Willows. And it'll better viewing than a Wind in the Willows adaptation by far. The latter is buried so deep in the world of English (childrens'??) literature that animating it would be like trying to make a film adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I am totally with you on this. I really want to see this movie, and it looks like Wes Anderson has knocked another one out of the park. Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Katie Johnson said...

Just got back from seeing this movie, and I have to say, I absolutely love it! I really can't find the words to describe it, but it will blow you out of the water, thats for sure.

Dan Hamman said...

I saw Fantastic Mr Fox in a packed cinema one night a few weeks ago, with about an even mix of kids and adults. Everyone was thoroughly entertained throughout, and there were plenty of laughs from all. It's definitely the last interesting animated film we'll see in what has been a strong year for the medium. The stop-frame animation was reminiscent one of those Oliver Postgate handmade tv shows that used to feature prominently on British children's television, something that I'm sure is due to the film's British animation director (whose style is experimental anyway--he's worked with Svankmajer in the past) and studio. I'm not sure the same effect could have been produced anywhere else.

Another thing about the film that worked for me was the story's gradual warming up, very much like a Wes Anderson film; not everyone loves each other regardless. Personally, I felt the unquestionable love and joy is what made something like Ponyo work, whereas I left Fantastic Mr Fox reconsidering certain hard home truths. This isn't a bad thing to have in an (atypical) family film, just not something I expected him to do. For reasons such as these, I think I'll find this the last interesting animated film of the year.

David said...

"Oh, what if the kids start crying about words they don't know? -- Mommy, Mommy! What's creme brulee?" -- Show them, for goodness sake. They'll thank you for it. "

Great point ! Don't "dumb down" the movies because some kid (or adult) might not know a certain word . Bring the audience up with the material, not play down to the audience's (perceived) ignorance. Many animated films suffer from this feeling that some committee of hand-wringing, beady-eyed product testers and assorted marketing hacks have beat all the poetry and mystery out of the thing because someone , someplace might not "get it". (it's probably them ,the marketing hacks , who don't "get it" and they can't imagine anyone's mind , especially a child's, being broader than theirs . In fact , children who haven't been ruined by too much TV and video games can understand a lot more than these hacks give them credit for)

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thanks for sharing all the good impressions on Fantastic Mr. Fox. I'll have to see it this weekend, since I've been a Wes Anderson fan for the longest time. Also, the stop-motion animation looks really terrific, almost deliberately jerky in a nostalgic way.

One interesting question is how this will be seen as a "family" movie. I'm sure a lot of us look at Fox and see Generation X irony-slash-nostalgia. But parents and kids might enjoy it, too. The story is based on Roald Dahl, one of the great children's storytellers, so there's hope.

Reminds me - I have to get that book about Roald Dahl's involvement in World War II. It came out during Ken Burns' The War.

Thanks to everybody for joining in, as always.

Michael Sporn said...

There's a nice little video clip and commentary by Wes Anderson on the NYTimes site. In it, Anderson talks about a scene, at the opening of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which he based on something he learned from watching Miyazaki films.

Anderson's film is thoroughly charming and entertaining. I think of it as a child playing with his Mr. Fox dolls, but the child's arms have been removed for the movie.

Melanie Dickinson said...

I just stumbled on Ghibli Blog today and I have to tell you how impressed I am with it.

There's so much substance, so many treasures that must have taken so much time and effort to compile. The writing is clever and relevant. And you don't have to sift through advertisements or junk to get there. Even the comments are thoughtful and stimulating. And it is an overall beautiful site. Bravo.

This is the first post I read, and it really spoke to me. Even though it is relatively short, it captures part of what makes Miyazaki so brilliant: that "Hidden Dimension." It reminds me of reading Alice and Wonderland as a child. The world that the story creates is so crazy and different and unique. But by no means does it offer any explanation for the scenes, characters, and lives that it barely touches on. And that's what makes it so compelling, particularly for a child; you can just imagine your own explanations.

Your other posts are just as well-written and captivating. This is a quality site deserving of covering Studio Ghibli. Thank you for your contribution to the World Wide Web.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@melanie: Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm humbled.

@michael sporn: I really need to see this movie this weekend. Thanks for the tip. Your description is terrific - that should be on movie posters! Hah!

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