As the credits of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" began to roll and the Bobby Fuller Four's "Let Her Dance" blared through the theater at a recent showing of the movie, a young girl leapt to her feet and joined the on-screen characters, dancing in the aisle.
Much has already been said about Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated film, a likely Oscar nominee and potential competitor to Pixar's "Up" in the best animated film category. But it's also the latest Anderson film to leave moviegoers — young and old, alike — with a memorable, final flourish.
The endings of his films — from "Bottle Rocket" to "The Royal Tenenbaums" — constitute some of the most indelible final reels in recent moviemaking. Collectively, they almost uniformly conclude in a poetic moment of togetherness, perseverance and, often, a wink of mischief. Emotion soars and music plays.
"Anybody who knows my movies, they could probably spot one of my endings," Anderson chuckled in a recent interview at the National Board of Review Awards, where he was honored for achievement.
(Those wary of spoilers to these films, including "Mr. Fox," may want to stop here.)
In a Wes Anderson ending, characters come together — to dance to the Faces' "Ooh La La" at the end of "Rushmore," or get back on the train at the finish of "The Darjeeling Limited."
There's a sense of undaunted spirit, like in Dignan's (Owen Wilson) wink in his slow-motion walk into prison at the end of "Bottle Rocket," Anderson's first film. Or in "The Royal Tenenbaums," when Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) remains undimmed even in death — his gravestone amusingly etched in a blatant lie that he died trying to rescue his family.
Music is often woven into the concluding scenes.
After a film dotted by David Bowie covers, "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" concludes with the real thing. Bowie's "Queen Bitch" rings out as Zissou (Bill Murray) elegantly (again in slow-motion) descends a staircase with a boy on his shoulders. In a homage to the cult film "Buckaroo Banzai," Zissou's team assembles around him as he marches down a pier.
After a long battle both with the farmers and within his fractured, idiosyncratic family, Mr. Fox — though scarred — triumphs. His family is still stuck underground, but Mr. Fox discovers how they'll survive. The film ends with the group dancing in the aisles of a grocery store, owned by the same farmers bent on the animals' destruction.
The ending came from Dahl's original manuscripts, not the published version.
"It was only when we had the song did I get, 'Here's what the mood is, here's what we're going to walk out of the theater with,' " says the 40-year-old director. "The scene exists because of the song."
The tune, "Let Her Dance," is a forgotten classic by Fuller, and Anderson says the song had been "on our list" since his frequent music supervisor, Randall Poster, played it for him about 10 years ago. The song's sock-hop exuberance — tinged with sacrifice — matches the Fox family's celebration perfectly.
"For me, that's the whole reason for getting into it in the first place," says Anderson. "The feeling when you're walking out of the theater and the whole thing has hit you — and usually there is something musical happening at that moment — and you're taking it all in."
Anderson's endings are almost like distillations of his entire work. Again and again, he meticulously creates characters of wit, audacity and melancholy. They teeter on the edge of keeping it together, but in the end they always do: They preserve the family, they get back on the train.
The consistency isn't intentional, Anderson says. Rather, the hundreds of decisions involved in making a movie "has a tendency of digging into your unconscious in ways that you're not entirely in charge of."
"At the end of it, you step back and you feel like, 'Well, I've shown my hand again,' " says Anderson, smiling. "At that point, I'm sort of standing with the characters, looking out at the camera a bit — seeing it from that point of view."