movie film review | chris tookey

Tale Of The Fox / Le Roman De Renard / The Story Of The Fox

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  Tale Of The Fox / Le Roman De Renard / The Story Of The Fox Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
8.00 /10
Claude Dauphin .... Monkey (voice) , Romain Bouquet .... Fox (voice)
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Directed by: Wladyslaw Starewicz, Irene Starewicz
Written by: Jean Nohain, Antoinette Nordmann, Roger Richebe, Irene Starewicz , from the story by Wolfgang Goethe

Released: 1932
Origin: Poland/ France
Colour: BW
Length: 65

A wily fox outwits the rest of the animal kingdom, by means fair and foul.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Not many movies have to wait six decades for their British premiere. And even fewer are masterpieces. This animated picture by the long-forgotten Polish writer-director, Wladyslaw Starewicz (pictured), is his only feature-length film, it took him 10 years to prepare and 18 months to shoot. The plot, though based on a story by Goethe, is a throwback to Aesopís fables: the world created is one where no one is to be trusted. A badger barrister lies on behalf of his client, then betrays him to save his own skin. Even the Lion King is a sanctimonious hypocrite, sentencing his animal subjects to become vegetarians while he and his family remain carnivores.

The film may be set in a feudal never-neverland, but its subversive attitudes have a twentieth-century resonance: Starewicz emigrated from the city where he was brought up, Moscow, in 1918, convinced that his art could never flourish under Communist dictatorship. And his fable of how to survive under a repressive regime won its first French release, significantly enough, in 1941 - during the Nazi occupation of Paris.

The filmís Orwellian cynicism extends to the way the animals look. The frogs arenít cute and furry, like Kermit: they look cold and clammy. A number of the animals seem moth-eaten and flea-infested: one of them (the monkey narrator) has what sounds like an unpleasant chest cold. Most have seen better days. All are on the make.

Starewicz is just as anthropomorphic as Disney: his fox hero walks on his hind legs and wears some snappy outfits. But the Poleís tone of no-nonsense survivalism is a far cry from Disneyís cosy platitudes, which have dominated film animation for generations, and not always for good. Underlying Starewiczís humour - some of which is as bizarre and fantastical as anything in Fantasia - is a willingness to tackle the darker sides of life, human and animal nature in the raw.

It is easy to see why Starewicz never enjoyed commercial success. Even modern children might find some of these very uncuddly puppets disturbing, and adults may think its storyline too simple (some of the animals are a little too easily outwitted by Reynard). But in its originality, its freshness of tone, and technical skill, itís breathtaking. One 3-minute sequence contains 273,000 different puppet scenes.

And itís funny. The darkness of the humour resembles Roald Dahl. The hilarious visual images and high slapstick invention rival Buster Keaton. And, like a drawing by Heath Robinson or Rowland Emett, there are so many ingenious touches and tiny observations that you know it will bear reseeing.

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