Russian animation presently finds itself in a state of a deep lethargic sleep. Today’s attempts to make anything worthy are as alive as the growing nails of Lenin (although, he is regularly shaved and manicured, witnesses say).
Dozens of creatively-challenged computer-animated films and series dominate Russian children’s channels (the most popular being “Masha and the Bear“). But the lingering popularity of the old cartoons, or “мультифильми,” indicates that the new ones are unlikely to remain in the cultural memory for long. Going over the golden days of Soviet animated films, such as “Winnie the Pooh” (yes, the Russians insist that they invented it and have their own version), “Nu, pogodi” (“Hey, Just You Wait!”), “The Comeback of the Prodigal Parrot”, “A Mother for the Baby Mammoth”, I would like to share what is considered one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of animation, “Hedgehog in the Fog”–directed by Yury Norstein and written by Sergey Kozlov at Soyuzmultfilm studio in 1975.
The sound is a bit off-sync, sorry about that. But this is actually the best quality of the video out there. And besides, it’s got decent subtitles.
Though not a beloved children’s film, the cartoon (or rather, animated film—it merits the pretension) has been worshipped as the best one ever by the 140 critics from all over the world, winning the first prize at “All-time animation best 150 in Japan and Worldwide” (Tokyo, 2003). But that’s Japan, where they make anticlimactic movies about goldfish who want to become human, so don’t put that much stock into it. Some people would say “good—the film deserves it”, some would grin in surprise. The plot is nowhere near Tarantino and there is not much text in it either—that is why even if you don’t know Russian, it’s still easily accessible. I imagine I had the same impression as a native Russian speaker would have had on seeing it for the first time. For the record, the piece is not always well understood even by adult viewers in Russia.
Frankly speaking, most little kids simply aren’t fans of this short film because it’s not what you’d call kid-friendly. It is often dim and blurry, and today would merit at least a PG-13 rating. If only for its atmosphere, I still think it works. Some compare it to Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” for its observational and withdrawn nature, others see it as an manifestation of the oriental part of the Russian soul. There is a line that is widely cited, among the others, where the Hedgehog says in his melancholic and thoughtful manner: “I am the hedgehog. I have fallen into the river.” Apparently this is pure Zen meditation, although with the hedgehog setting it may provoke the cuddly compassion from the average viewer.
A lighter animated Norstein short is the Heron and the Crane, which I am also very fond of.