First and foremost, the film is sadly only available as a region 2 PAL dvd, not playable onstandard American players.
When seeking back through all the gems that animated cinema has to offer, for the most part, there are few stones left unturned. This is particularly true for American enthusiasts. We all know how amazing and wonderful the old Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons are, the quality of animation in the original Disney efforts, and so forth.
So it makes my mind reel that Ladislav Starewitch 's 1931 (it was produced from 1929 to 1931 but did not see release until almost ten years later, due to issues with the soundtrack) 65 minute long feature film "Le Roman de Renard" (The Tale of the Fox)is practically unknown and unseen. I myself was only turned-on to Starewitch's work in the last decade and it took me a year before I bothered to order this film on DVD from Amazon France. I still can't believe what I've been missing.
This is simply one of the funniest comedies Of The 1930s, if not of all time. The story is far from sweet, being positively savage in its humor at all times.
Mr.Fox engages, enrages, and outwits an entire kingdom of forest animals until the king lion himself is forced to send his army of beasts to capture Fox and his family.
The story, slapstick and the jokes are good enough to have been portrayed by human actors. In fact, for 1930 this movie predates or is at least contemporary with many American efforts at slapstick and is viciously fast paced.
And it's this fast pace that's what makes the animation so startling. For viewers only familiar with puppet animation wherein the characters move leadenly and ponderously you're in for a shock. The beautifully crafted and detailed puppets often race about, making the action (yes , action!) violent and hysterically funny. Many of these motions and gags are reminiscent of early Warner Bros. Friz Freleng drawn cartoons. What will immediately impress viewers is in how Starewitch achieves "blurred " images to accentuate the action, making them optically realistic, quick and fun and quite different than any other stop-motion animation you have ever seen. The recent "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" by Wes Anderson pales in comparison. The special effects are stunning; for instance, apparently animating characters outdoors in sunlight, and in front of moving water!
The movie is entirely in french, yet if you only speak english don't despair: there are decent subtitles in english only. Besides, when you have seen the movie once and play it again you will realize that the film could only ever work in french - the very sassiness and charm of that language only enhances the comedy and would never work dubbed into english.
The DVD offers an on-screen filmography and brief biography of Starewitch as well as an additional short Starewitch film "FETICHE EN VOYAGE DE NOCES"(aka "The Navigator") from 1936. It includes commentary by a relation of Starewitch.
The print itself is in black and white from The National Center for Cinematography of France and is quite good with no warpages or blemishes besides an occaisional tendency to jump a bit and some scratches. Every scene is packed with background detail and animation and all of it is very clear, if not crystal clear. If you speak no french, you will want to watch it three times, at least: once to read the subtitles, again without them to watch the animation undistracted, and again after that to absorb all the background. The film has a lot to offer!
Speaking for myself, the funniest thing I find in the film is the cat's serenade to the lioness queen: "I will not go away - meow meow!", and the badger's verbal attack on the hen's honor (not appropriate for kids!), but you'll have to see it for yourself.
Prepare for a treat like you've never expected!