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Wes Anderson’s Quirkiest Protagonists, Ranked

It’s a lovely time in the cinematic world whenever we’re graced with a new film by the master of the whip-pan, purveyor of the deadpan, and protégé of Peter Pan, Wes Anderson, whose eight films to date have had such a particular sense of tone and style that he’s joined the likes of Hitchcock or Lynch by basically creating his own genre. This week sees the release of Isle of Dogs (read our review!), his second stop-motion animated movie but one that looks no less Andersonian than any of his live-action ventures, and with just as many distinctive characters.

But which of Wes Anderson’s main characters are the most Wes Andersony? What makes a quirky Wes Anderson protagonist so quirky? I’ve decided, for the purposes of this list, to go by the following criteria:

-How deadpan are they?
-What pattern of clothes do they wear?
-Do they have any particular facial accessories?
-How old are they versus the vocabulary they use?
-What is their quirkiest line?

Your mileage may vary, but here are the protagonist(s) of each of Wes Anderson’s eight movies to date, ranked by their quirkiness:

8. Steve Zissou, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Despite what a lot of people say, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies. One of the main reasons I enjoy it is Bill Murray’s portrayal of Zissou himself, the self-absorbed world famous oceanologist, marine biologist, filmmaker, and overall adventurer. However, of all of Anderson’s protagonists, Zissou is by far the least quirky. I mean, we’re starting with a baseline of general quirkiness on all of them, but despite his red knit cap and white beard, which are Halloween costume-worthy to this day, Steve is the low-key one in a film full of much quirkier supporting characters.

Quirkiest Line

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go on an overnight drunk, and in 10 days I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it. Anyone who wants to tag along is more than welcome.”

7. Jack, Peter, and Francis, The Darjeeling Limited

There are certainly things about these three estranged brothers that are quirky. Surely Francis’ (Owen Wilson) constant facial bandages, Peter’s (Adrien Brody) big ol’ sunglasses, and Jack’s (Jason Schwartzman) mustache, coupled with the fact that they all wear suits in the blazing heat of India, are pretty darn quirky traits. However, I mostly find the trio annoying more than quirky.

Quirkiest Line(s):

Jack: “Which direction did yours go?”
Francis: “What do you mean?”
Jack: “Your feathers. Mine blew toward the mountains.”
Francis: “That’s not right. It’s not suppose to get blown away. You’re suppose to blow on it then bury it.”
Peter: “I didn’t get that. I still have mine.”
Francis: “You guys didn’t do it right. I asked if you read the instructions. You did it wrong. I tried my hardest. I don’t know what to do.”
Peter: “I don’t think Dad would’ve hated it.”

6. Royal Tenenbaum, The Royal Tenenbaums

It was fairly difficult deciding who actually was the protagonist in this movie, seeing that all of the Tenenbaum children are very well defined with arcs and quirks all their own. However, Gene Hackman’s title character is the quirk tree from whence all the dysfunctional quirk fruit derives. He might be the worst father in movie history. He intentionally shot his son Chas with a BB gun, and consistently and willingly feels he must point out that Margot is his “adopted daughter.” He often took only Richie to dogfights while excluding Chas and Margot. He’s got a silly mustache, silly glasses, an array of silly hats, and always wears some variety of plaid tweed which makes you know immediately what you’re in for. Finally, he’s an older dude who talks like a 20-something.

Quirkiest Lines:

Royal: “[Pagoda] saved my life, you know. Thirty years ago. I was knifed at a bazaar in Calcutta, and he carried me to the hospital on his back.”
Ari: “Who stabbed you?”
Royal: “He did. There was a price on my head, and he was a hired assassin. Stuck me in the gut with a shiv.”

5. Mr. Jack Fox, Fantastic Mr. Fox

If the fox who wears a tweed suit and tie and has a fondness for bandit hats is only at the midpoint of the quirky list, you can only imagine what that means for the rest of Wes Anderson’s canon. Mr. Fox is surely a dashing rogue who, like the best of Anderson’s quirky leads, is longing for something more. He’s only seven non-fox years old, which means his vocabulary is particularly good, but it ranks about the same relative to the other talking animals out there. He does get a leg up by having a particularly weird snapping and clicking thing as a catchphrase, though.

Quirkiest Line

“They say all foxes are slightly allergic to linoleum, but it’s cool to the paw—try it. They say my tail needs to be dry cleaned twice a month, but now it’s fully detachable—see? They say our tree may never grow back, but one day, something will. Yes, these crackles are made of synthetic goose and these giblets come from artificial squab and even these apples look fake, but at least they’ve got stars on them. I guess my point is, we’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt the five-and-a-half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met in my life. So let’s raise our boxes: to our survival.”

4. Sam and Suzy, Moonrise Kingdom

Children speaking like adults and fostering adult feelings and relationships, all without the comprehension of what being adults actually means: these are very quirky traits indeed, and the two young leads of Moonrise Kingdom are exemplars in that field. Their fashion choices are particularly ridiculous, though right in line with the 1960s, I suppose; Suzy has a wide variety of books and listens to classical music, while Sam has an encyclopedic knowledge of camping and survival. Why can’t the grownups just let them be?!?!

Quirkiest Lines

Sam: “Sometimes I stick leaves on my hair. It helps cool your head down.”
Suzy: “Hmm. That’s a good idea. It might also help if you didn’t wear a fur hat.”

3. Dignan, Bottle Rocket

With his very first character in a Wes Anderson’s movie—Anderson’s debut feature, to boot—Owen Wilson set the bar very high for the quirky main characters yet to come. Not only does he feel the need to set up elaborate heists in both a library and his friend Bob’s house, he decides the best way to conceal their identity is with strips of tape on their noses. I mean, what the what? While his manner of dress isn’t as weird as some in the Anderson canon (save the yellow jumpsuit during the final heist), it’s his general demeanor and the notion that he is probably certifiably insane that puts him quite high on the list.

Quirkiest Line

“Here are just a few of the key ingredients: dynamite, pole vaulting, laughing gas, choppers—can you see how incredible this is going to be? Hang-gliding, come on!”

2. M. Gustave, The Grand Budapest Hotel

In what has quickly cemented itself as my favorite Wes Anderson film, we have almost his quirkiest main character, the suave concierge of the titular Grand Budapest, M. Gustave H., played to perfection by Ralph Fiennes. His uniform of bright purple would seem crass on anyone else (as it does on every other employee at the hotel) but he wears it like it’s part of him, along with his tiny mustache. He’s constantly bloviating about whatever’s on his mind to his protégé, Zero, but somewhere in every speech is a nugget of wisdom. He swears a lot, too, in between lofty prose, and he has affairs with rich geriatric women. He’s just a delight.

Quirkiest Line

“What happened, my dear Zero, is I beat the living s**t out of a sniveling little runt called Pinky Bandinski, who had the gall to question my virility. Because, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from penny dreadfuls, it’s that when you find yourself in a place like this, you must never be a candy ass; you’ve got to prove yourself from day one. You’ve got to win their respect. You should take a long look at HIS ugly mug this morning. [Takes a sip of water and laughs] He’s actually become a dear friend.”

1. Max Fischer, Rushmore

With his second feature, Wes Anderson solidified his prototypical character makeup and visual style alike. Jason Schwartzman’s first of five films with Anderson introduced us to Max Fischer, the most underachieving overachiever of all time. He was A) a kid who talked and acted like a grownup, B) a wearer of a uniform, braces, and weird Coke bottle glasses, C) in love with his teacher, D) a producer of plays so elaborately staged he may as well be Julie Taymor, and E) able to be both deadpan and wholly emotive at the same time. Max Fischer IS the archetype for all future Wes Anderson characters, and the quirkiest of the lot for sure.

Quirkiest Line

“Maybe I’m spending too much of my time starting up clubs and putting on plays. I should probably be trying harder to score chicks. That’s the only thing anybody really cares about. But, its not my forte, unfortunately.”

What do you think? What would your lineup of the quirkiest protagonists in Wes Anderson movies be? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Columbia/Touchstone/Fox Searchlight/Focus Features/

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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