French Anthropomorphic Animal Animated Features, part 1 – by Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer. There will be four parts.
French (meaning French-language, whether produced in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, or the French-speaking part of Switzerland) anthro theatrical features have been in the news since the subtitled 2013 U.S. release (English-language dub in 2014) of the 2012 Belgian Ernest & Célestine, about the forbidden friendship between a mouse and a bear in a civilization of both. Right now, there is also Yellowbird.
French-language anthro theatrical features are older than most Americans think. Here is a chronological annotated list.
First, some rules. This list consists of those French-language theatrical features (no shorts or TV animation like the 1987 Moi Renart) that feature anthropomorphic animals as the only or majority of the cast. It does not include those featuring mostly humans with only one or two anthro animals, such as the Lucky Luke Westerns with Jolly Jumper, Luke’s talking horse; even when the animal(s) is the main star, such as the 2008 Fly Me to the Moon (three housefly astronauts meet Buzz Aldrin; ho ho) or the 2009 La Véritable Histoire du Chat Botté (The True Story of Puss in Boots) or the 2012 Sur la Piste du Marsupilami (On the Trail of the Marsupilami). It does not include any movies about living toys, fairies, gremlins, elves, or Smurfs.
Le Roman de Renard (The Story of the Fox), directed by Ladislas Starevich. 65 minutes. April 10, 1941.
This is a dubious “French” film with a dubious release date. Starevich (or Starewicz) began making stop-motion films in Russia in 1911. He emigrated to escape the Russian Revolution, and only happened to be in Paris during 1929 and 1930 when he and his wife Irene animated Le Roman de Renard. The animation turned out to be easier than the sound track, which was finally funded in Germany and premiered in Berlin as Reinicke Fuchs on April 10, 1937. The French edit, which is the best-known today, was released exactly four years later on April 10, 1941.
The film is presented as “the oldest and most beautiful story known to us animals”, as narrated by an elderly monkey dressed as a Medieval scholar. The scenario is credited to Irène Starevich, but it is essentially Le Roman de Renart as finalized in literary form by the Renaissance, especially in Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1794 Reineke Fuchs epic poem. By the 1920s almost every standard edition of Goethe’s poem had the 1840s illustrations by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, and the Starevich’s stop-motion models look very similar to these. If you know the 12th-century animal folk tale about Baron Renard the Fox at the court of King Lion, you know the plot of the movie.
Un Fée… Pas Comme les Autres (A Fairy… Not Like the Others), directed by Jean Tourane. 63 minutes. December 20, 1957.
The only feature on this list that is not animated, except Marquis. A French-Italian co-production, shown in America as The Secret of Magic Island. Often labeled an animated feature, but really a children’s film with live animals in model sets, “with some stop-motion animation” of the vehicles, train, and ascension balloons. The inhabitants of a little town are anthropomorphized (trained) dogs, geese, foxes, rabbits, cats, pigs, etc., semi-humanized by a good fairy. When the fairy’s magic wand is stolen by an evil Black Troll (a monkey), Per and Barbara, two ducklings in hot-air balloons, travel to the Black Troll’s island to steal it back.
Pollux et le Chat Bleu (Dougal and the Blue Cat), directed by Serge Danot. 82 minutes. December 1970.
Stop-motion animation, based on the French-British five-minute TV series La Manège Enchanté (The Magic Roundabout), 1964 to 1977 in various versions. Due to the difficulty of translating the surrealistic French program (often described today as “David Lynch for pre-schoolers”), the British licensed the right to duplicate the puppets and write original stories. The TV program was for young children, although when the BBC moved it in 1967 from the evening to the afternoon when adults could not watch it, there were complaints from many adults who had been enjoying it.
The Bois Joli (Happywood) is a village of lollipop trees and all kinds of candy, the home of Pollux (Dougal), the long-haired overly-British dog (a Lhasa Apso) who loves sweets. One day Pollux hears a mysterious blue voice in the abandoned treacle factory. The village’s magic roundabout (merry-go-round to Americans) brings a blue cat (Buxton) to the village. All the other characters like the blue cat except Pollux, who does not trust him. The cat hears about the blue voice in the treacle factory and goes there. The voice, belonging to the Blue Queen, offers to make him king if he can correctly identify the shades of seven blue doors. The cat does and becomes king with an army ofblue men, which he uses to imprison everyone (except Pollux, who escapes) in the village. Pollux must free them; an ordeal that includes being tortured by sugar cubes.
Le Tour du Monde de Colargol, directed by Tadeusz Wilkosz. 1974 on TV; October 3, 1976 theatrically.
Colargol, the little bear cub, was created during the 1950s in stories by Olga Pouchine of France. In 1969 French producer Albert Barillé failed to get funding for a TV series from the ORTF, and produced it himself, with animator Tadeusz Wilkosz of the Polish studio Se-ma-for as director. 53 13-minute stop-motion TV episodes were made. It was shown on French TV as Les Aventures de Colargol from November 9, 1970 through 1974; on Polish TV as Przygody Misia Colargola; in Britain as Barnaby, and in Canada and Ireland as Jeremy the Bear. This feature is apparently a compilation of TV episodes. It was shown on French TV during 1974, but did not have a theatrical premiere until October 3, 1976 in Finland.
My translation of a French synopsis of the TV series: Colargol is a bear cub who only thinks of singing; but whenever he opens his mouth, it’s a catastrophe! His friends the birds take him to the king of the birds, who gives him a whistle that makes him a singing bear.
Marquis, directed by Henri Xhonneux. 83 minutes. April 26, 1989.
This is not really animation, except for a few brief clay-animated scenes; but it is often considered adult animation due to actors in animal-head costumes. The film was written and choreographed by cartoonist Roland Topor, who created the art design for René Laloux’s 1973 La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet). It is set in the pre-Revolutionary Bastille prison/madhouse, featuring the insane Marquis de Sade (dog-head) who holds long conversations with his clay-animated penis, named Colin; Justine (cow), a raped woman; Juliette (horse), a revolutionary noblewoman who was imprisoned for trying to overthrow King Louis XVI; and others including a camel-headed priest, a rat-headed guard, and the cock-headed Bastille governor. At the end the 1789 Revolution breaks out, revolutionaries free the prisoners, Colin runs off with Juliette, and the Marquis is left alone to continue his writings about perverted sex.
Marquis was released in America with the tagline: “A bizarre tale of sex, lust, and the French Revolution”.
Les Mille et Une Farces de Pif et Hercule (The 1001 Gags of Spiff and Hercules), directed by Bruno Desraisses and Charles de Latour (Cy Enfield). 80 minutes. February 10, 1993.
Pif the dog and his comic-relief foil Hercule the cat were comic-book stars created for a French Communist newspaper in 1948. It was so popular that it became the main feature of the weekly French boys’ magazine Vaillant, le Journal de Pif, renamed Pif Gadget (each issue included a toy) in 1969, from 1965 to 1993, and revived from 2004 to 2009. There was a French 65-episode half-hour Pif et Hercule animated TV series in 1989. This movie was the first Pif et Hercule animation; a French-North Korean co-production produced by Gold’An’Film in Pyongyang.
Hercule the cat tires of always being the fall guy, andruns off to a desert island to write his own movie in which he is the star. He imagines many scenes – boxing, musketeers, jungle man, secret agent, Wild West, etc. – that start out with him as the hero and Pif as the stooge; but somehow, even in his imagination, Pif always takes the lead and upstages Hercule.
Le Voyage de la Souris (The Mouse’s Voyage), directed by Anne Caprile. 67 minutes. 1998.
A children’s musical. A mouse and a cat go on a fantastic voyage together. This is another movie of which practically no information exists, except the above on IMDb. In this case, there is one image from a recent screening on French TV to prove that it really exists. The production company was Archimède International, which IMDb lists as only producing three features, two live-action and this. No distributor is listed. Was Le Voyage de la Souris ever distributed theatrically, or was it sold directly to TV as a children’s movie? This one still implies that it would never have been successful at the box-office.
This is enough for one issue of Dogpatch Press. Frankly, most of these are not as interesting as later French-language theatrical animated features with anthro animals. More later.