The Original Fantastic Fox: Ladislas Starevich’s Le Roman de Renard

Posted by Nick Kent on Nov 25, 2009 in Animation |

Ladislas StarevichCatching the trailer for Wes Anderson’s first animated Fantastic Mr. Fox brings to mind Ladislas Starevich’s 70+ year old animated feature film Le Roman de Renard, which I was unaware even existed as of a couple years ago. It was probably the second stop motion feature after Aleksandr Ptushko’s The New Gulliver (1935) though it his was in production and may have been shown years earlier in silent form. It was also likely the 3rd animated feature with sound.

Le Roman de Renard: Film poster from 1930

Some of the details seem contradictory. Starevich, often spelled Polish-style as Władysław Starewicz, as born in Lithuania (part of Czarist Russia) in 1882. Reading a French DVD his grandson considers him Lithuanian though other sources tend to consider his nationality as Polish. He has a good claim on the first stop motion with characters as the only stop motion predating his work was of furniture simply moving by itself.

After a substantial body of animated and live action work before the Russian Revolution he relocated to Paris during the revolution and concentrated on stop motion films. IMDB.com lists Le Roman de Renard as being completed in 1930 though apparently a German language soundtrack was only finished in 1937 and the definitive French soundtrack in 1941, both likely adding a degree of tainted-ness with German funding and an occupation-era release.

His animation techniques involving often decidedly feral looking characters, whipping camera moves and “go-motion” with blurs long before Lucasfilm’s ILM coined the term during The Empire Strikes Back. Blurring is rarely seen in stop motion even today. The Brothers Quay’s are the only animators that come to mind today who extensively use blurred movement. Internationally, Starevich’s best known work is the “Devil’s Ball” sequence from his 1933 featurette The Mascot:

Nick Kent is a New York based artist who works with electronic media and is an occasional pop culture pundit.

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