The Story of the Fox (1930)
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The culmination of twenty years of pioneering animation, "Tale" was virtually forgotten from it's release till the early 1990's when it resurfaced at various film festivals. Seeing "Tale" now it's easy to understand why 1930's audiences might have had a hard time with this. The brutality of humour and characters would've been off-putting to most and even now the film an ability to shock.
It's easy to go into this expecting a more primitive "Song of the South" and at first this seems like where we're headed. But there's a cynicism and sophistication Walt could never have imagined.
Reynaud (craftily voiced by Romain Bouquet)is no Disney hero nor should he be taken as a soft hearted villain. Completely amoral, loyal to none (outside his family) he ruthlessly exploits the gullibility of his peers (and even the king himself), in a series of inventive and savagely comic encounters to a point where the enraged animal kingdom declares war on him.
Ten years in the making, "Tale" offers numerous highlights (the drunken rabbit in the monastery, the attack on Reynaud's castle; not to mention a particularly surreal and endearing song between a love smitten cat and a royal girl dove during the strange armistice in which no animal is allowed to eat another.)
An unforgettable and remarkable movie that defies it's age. Try to look out for this one on video (it's available) or in animation festivals... Better still write into your local TV station and request it so more people can see it.
"Le Roman de Renart" (it was originally a "t " ,for Renart was a proper noun;the old FRench word for fox was "goupil" ) is 65 minutes of constant innovation.Borrowing from La Fontaine his "Corbeau et le Renard " (the Raven and the Fox)and smartly integrating anachronisms (the dream of Renard :the tournament is given a live commentary treatment complete with microphone,the sentence which the Lion King (!)says when he's attacking Renart's fortress is from Napoleon in front of the pyramids.),Ladislas Larevich does not forget humor (the message the Lion King finds in his cassette)and by several respects it's also a musical: there is a frog chorus fifty years before Rupert the Bear (and Paul Mac Cartney),Italian serenades ..
It's very faithful to the spirit of the book:by no means a film for children (it would be interesting to watch a movie of that time targeted at the children market,if there were any),it's a work for the grown-ups like Grimault/Prévert's "Le Roi et L'Oiseau" or Dunning's "Yellow Submarine" .Yes,it's that much good.My favourite scene is when Renard has fallen to the bottom of the well and he pretends he is in Heaven: the pictures almost predate pop art and psychedelic state !The spoof on religion is always present ,the "love one another" becomes " don't eat one another" ,and the Lion King asks his subjects to go veggie (except for his royal majesty on Thursday and on Sunday);another stupefying scene shows the rabbit who begins to shake his small bells frenetically after having drunk the sacred wine (the blood of the Lord)in the church.
In France,it's completely forgotten.It's a buried treasure.
The German version was released in April 1937, thereby qualifying "Tale Of The Fox" as one of the Pre-"Snow White" Six of cartoon features. As far as puppetoon "epics" go, I guess it runs a tie with Alexsandr Ptushko's "New Gulliver" as first, since the bulk of the production was completed before 1931 (though there was certainly more tinkering done in the mid-thirties). However, apart from the impressionistic black and white photography, there's little that "dates" this classic. Starewicz's technique is so flawless and the facial expressions of his humanized furry stars so expressive, that it is hard to imagine anyone today mastering this type of animation without some digital help. As wonderful as "King Kong" is, it still looks more primitive in comparison.
... And speaking of "Kong", the forest set-ups in this one share some of the dreamlike quality of Skull Island, with plenty of soft-focus foliage. Basically, this is a swashbuckler with an all-critter cast, complete with King Lion and Lioness (passing affections to a singing cat), foolish bunnies, easy-to-be-had wolf and bear, dancing mice, workaholic badger and, of course, the wily star who gets the best of everybody. Most spectacular are the battle scenes waged against the fox's castle, but the gentle scoffing of authorities and "organized" religion (rabbits getting drunk in church, the fox's views of Heaven at the bottom of a well, etc.) makes this more avant-garde than the animated films we're used to.
Interestingly, Disney started making an adaptation of this story three decades later, but instead made a fox-version of Robin Hood. Usually, cartoon features don't star an anti-hero like Renart, who lies and cheats his way through life and wins out in the end. Although it boasts a Disneyesque level of production excellence, "Tale Of The Fox" is about as un-Disney like as you can get in thirties animation.
I've always been fond of animation, and the charming stop-motion technique of The Tale of the Fox doesn't let a fan down. The creators have clearly put a lot of effort to the puppets' lifelike appearances and mannerisms: especially the lion king and his reticent lioness queen look excellent but also funny with all the details on their faces and costumes. The movements of the characters and the camera are also well planned; the action-packed comedic scenes and the adorable little carnival of frogs and mice made me laugh out loud out of joy. Especially the grand battle scenes and the fox's elaborate traps in the castle at the end are pure slapstick, perfectly equal to many live-action comedies of the era. The music and the French voices are also top-notch and haven't dated at all.
Despite the hilarity of the fox's antics, it is also easy to feel sorry for his gullible victims thanks to their lifelikeness, be they bears, wolves or cats. Among the medieval set pieces there are also some obvious references to modern society that further emphasize the longstanding relevancy of the film; namely the newspaper ad, the commentated duel sporting event and the overly talented barrister badger who keeps twisting the truth like the best defense lawyers or our days. The queen's silly infatuation with the troubadour cat is also a subplot worth mentioning.
As even the ending avoids the predictable "evil will get its pay" message, The Tale of the Fox can only be strongly recommended to any enthusiast of classic animation. Hopefully the film will receive wider attention some day, as it is certainly superior to many modern family films that only rely on noisy bumbling or colourful CGI.
This film is also the 2nd stop-motion animated film in animation history. The film is based on the old medieval stories of Reynard the Fox, and all the tricks he plays on the animals in King Lion's court, who were trying to bring to justice for his trickery; in which punishment is being hung. You know, I could clearly see the inspiration for Disney's version of "Robin Hood," and inspiration for the 2009 stop-motion film "Fantastic Mr. Fox."
Overall, I had really enjoy this film and it is now one of my favorite foreign animated films.
Not only the animation is incredibly well done (In every single frame of this movie the viewer could appreciate a high level of details in the characters and the sceneries) but also the story was delightful and very fun to watch, with very likable and interesting characters.
Loosely based in "The Reynard Cycle", this film is some sort of "anti-fable", or better said, a spoof of the classical fables, with the main character being the complete opposite of a role model (The eponymous fox is dishonest, amoral, sly, and self serving rogue, but at the same time, is also a charming, memorable character.
I would recommend this film to anyone, but specially to all those who love and enjoy any kind of animated films.