THE MASCOT (Władysław Starewicz, 1933)

From France, to which Władysław Starewicz had immigrated, arriving in 1920, Fétiche combines brief bookending live-action and the stop-motion puppet animation that takes over as a stuffed toy dog, freshly sewn, ends up boxed with other toys, including a tutued ballerina, who becomes a tragic index of potential fates in the depressed 1930s economy, all of whom get tossed into the street one long, dangerous night. The toys’ creator is a woman whose young daughter lies sick in bed, speechless. The dog speaks for the child: “I want an orange.” The mother explains that she hasn’t the money to purchase this. This desire for a juicy orange, however, motivates the pooch in the streets and at the Devil’s Ball, where the Devil itself, a vicious ape and a skeletal bird are among the plethora of intricately designed creatures of the night that suggests a fusion of Bosch and Goya, as well as the degree to which death hovers. Representing the sick, powerless child, the dog gets hold of an orange that she aims to take back home to save the child’s life. But so many interruptions along the way threaten to end the mission prior to its satisfactory completion.
     However, the loyal dog perseveres, arriving home at dawn as the cock crows and the soldiers heralding the morning literally appear. In an amazing scene, with the child sitting up in bed with her last bit of strength, the dog from its sill peels the orange and tosses its sections in series into the child’s mouth. The girl instantly recovers—one would think, the short’s most joyous moment. It is topped, though, when in the last few seconds we learn the source of the dream that rescued the child: not the child herself, but her mother.

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