Archive for January 2, 2021

The Drastic Mr. Fox

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 2, 2021 by dcairns


Wes Anderson acknowledged Lasislas Starewicz as a big influence on his approach to animation in THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and ISLE OF DOGS — LE ROMAN DE RENARD (1937) would seem the most obvious connection.

Starewicz’s work might be better known if his sensibility weren’t so unique. It’s not that he saw animation as being other than the children’s medium it seems cursed to be — just that Starewicz was the Great Un-Disney. I just watched his THE INSECTS’ CHRISTMAS, the title of which alone gives you a sense of his itchy, uncomfortable vibe. A miniature wooden Father Christmas comes down off a tree and gives presents to all the beetles in the snow. It’s sheer madness.

The puppets (or actual bugs, perhaps) move quite herky-jerky in that 1914 short, but in RENARD, which took five years to make (with Mrs. Starewicz, Irene as co-director; their daughter, “Nina Star,” acts in some of their films; it was a family concern) everything seems to be on ones. The motion is smooth as velvet, even when the characters rush about — in fact, the Starewiczs sometimes slip into live action so a figure can vanish in a realistic motion blur.

And these mammalian protags and antags are much closer to child-friendly plush toys than the spiky bugs of earlier films. The trouble is, the story is by frickin’ Goethe, and it’s bloody horrible. Mr. Fox is a psychopath. His trickster activities have a lot of Brer Rabbit about them, but they’re all really nasty. The attempts to render things more comical are extraordinarily creepy.

The King of the Animals, a lion, naturally, is constantly hearing complaints about Renard’s depredations. Like, one time, they bring in a bier. On it is a chicken carcass, a victim of this vulpine Mack the Knife. Staggering around the bones is a little anthropomorphized chicklet, crying for its momma. Just horrible. You can’t not be impressed and depressed at the same time.

At one point, in his defense, Mr. Fox conjures up the fantasy image of his wife and child. The Starewiczs dutifully show the baby suckling at the (humanoid) breast of the mother — and her foxtit moves in a lifelike, fleshy way — I’m assuming the cloth is two-thirds full of sawdust or birdseed or something. Because that detail matters. You can’t make a proper kids’ film if the animals’ knockers don’t move right, just ask Ralph Bakshi.

When Renard spins one of his bogus yarns and describes how Heaven can be accessed via the bottom of the village well, we see the afterlife, populated by a choir of disembodied rabbit heads, each equipped with angel wings. Why do the rabbit heads have no bodies? Because farmers cut their heads off?

There’s SO much visual invention here and yet the movie will mostly make you sad and frightened. Still, the monkey lawgiver who peers at us from a screen within a screen is voiced by Claude Dauphin, also the President of the Galaxy in BARBARELLA, again on a screen of his own.