Issue 24 (2009)
Georgii Gitis: The Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma (Prikliucheniia Alenushki i Eremy, 2008)
reviewed by Lora Mjolsness © 2009
Russian Adventures in 3-D Animated Film
The Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma premiered in October 2008 as Russia’s first full-length 3D animated film for the entire family. Written by Andrei Goncharov and Konstantin Mulin and directed by Georgii Gitis  the film project began a year and a half before filming commenced in October 2006 and was finished 22 months later in July 2008. This film represents a step forward in Russia’s quest for creating and competing with an ever-increasing number of 3D animations for the big screen. While Alenushka and Yerioma has received harsh criticism for not reaching the standards of Pixar or DreamWorks, this film certainly moves Russian animated film in the direction to compete in the future against other full-length 3D animated films in the Russian market.
Unlike other full-length Russian animated films recently released, the goal of this film is not to create another story line based on Russian bogatyrs and historical figures, such as Mel'nitsa studio's trilogy Alesha Popovich and Tugarin the Serpent (Alesha Popovich i Tugarin Zmei; dir. Konstantin Bronzit, 2004); Dobrynia Nikitich and the Serpent Gorynych (Dobrynia Nikitich i Zmei Gorynych; dir. Il'ia Maksimov, 2006); Il'ia Muromets and the Nightingale-Robber (Il'ia Muromets i solovei-razboinik; dir. Vladimir Toropchin, 2007) and Prince Vladimir (Kniaz' Vladimir; dir. Iurii Kulakov, 2006), but to create a musical comedy based on Russian fairytales. The film is successful in following the traditions set forth by other full-length animations, including recognizable voices and original music. A common practice in animated films is the casting of film and television stars to lend their voices to animated characters. Alenushka and Yerioma successfully cast Anton Makarskii, a famous actor and singer, as the voice of the young peasant-musician Yerioma. The actress and model Inna Gomes furnishes her voice to the leading heroine Alenushka. The Middle Eastern sheik is Sergei Chonishvili, who is well known for his theater work as well as his voice-overs on documentary films. However, it is Renata Litvinova, who lends her memorable voice to Aunt Efrosin’ia, who has the biggest impact on the film. Celebrity voices help the animation team bring the characters to life and, by appealing to adult audiences, can significantly enlarge the potential audience of the film.
The musical component is another area in which Alenushka and Yerioma aimed for a broader audience and a new level of sophistication. The inclusion of original songs became popular with Disney in the late 1920s but beginning in the 1990s soundtrack releases for animated films have become more and more popular, thus increasing the profit margin for animated films. Having cast famous singers for the characters, this film had a head start in creating an impressive musical score. Anton Makarskii performs three original songs written also by Goncharov and Mulin. But despite the effort, the songs fail to provide memorable melodies or lyrics that would make the soundtrack commercially successful. Indeed, on occasion the words do not seem to match the action of the film, as for example the song of the Middle Eastern Sheik who wants to be a poet. Although the lyrics and melodies are not particularly memorable, the songs still assist in creating the characters’ personalities.
Alenushka and Yerioma presents rounded characters and captivating backgrounds as part of the commercial orientation of the film. Although the action appears to be set in ancient Rus’, the film has a timelessness that is difficult to pin down. Moving beyond the realm of Russia, the film brings East and West together in the characters of a German Knight and a Middle Eastern Sheik. While the Russian forest and palace are certainly stereotypical, the color and line bring a certain whimsical element to the animation. The wooden fence and gate surrounding the palace are made from various candy-like shapes and give the palace a jeweled appearance. The asymmetrical lines of the palace and the various multi-colored spires and pinwheels help to increase this fanciful, childlike world that defies a particular historical time.
The timeless quality of the film brings the land of Rus’ together with modern day Russia. The two main characters, Alenushka and Yerioma, invoke fairytale characters of the past, such as Ivan the Fool and Vasilisa the Beautiful, while retaining ties to the modern world. Alenushka, the unrecognized daughter of the Tsar Dormidont, dresses in a traditional Russian costume with wide embroidery along the cuffs, but her dress is an updated version as she sports a micro-mini and platform shoes decorated with large daisies. She also carries a trendy backpack emblazoned with a heart and a sporty headband. Alenushka’s personality also places her firmly in the modern world. She is self-confident and self-absorbed, constantly checking her heavy eye make-up in a compact mirror that she carries around with her. Yerioma, the peasant and bard, also dresses in a Russian peasant style, but his shirt is imprinted with musical notes and he wears bellbottomed jeans. In addition, this bard plays the drums in a rock style and is able to make a balalaika sound like an electric guitar. In this way, the characters preserve their fairy-tale quality, while allowing modern-day audiences to identify with them.
While the best 3D animated films have come a long way in the life-like depiction of the human form, the Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma lags far behind. For example, while hair shows realistic gradations of color, it resembles a helmet placed on the character’s head. This is particularly noticeable on the Princess Vseslava, less so on Alenushka who wears a headband to mask her hairline. Despite the rouge on the characters’ cheeks, a plastic sheen clings to their skin and clothing. Princess Vseslava is a good example as her brown overalls, covering her larger bottom-heavy physique, give her a plastic balloon-like appearance in many scenes. However, other characters such as the German Knight von Tsvetter, are rendered quiet effectively. Wearing a suit of armor and a strange helmet with a wheel attached at the top, the knight avoids this unfortunate plastic look. With a large rounded armor-covered chest and stick-like arms and legs and what looks like metal kneepads, the Knight is a humorous villain who speaks Russian with a German accent and a smattering of German words. This technique of getting around the need for skin and hair has been successful in other 3D animations and works very well with the storyline in Alenushka and Yerioma. Yet while all 3D animation is, to some extent, limited by technology, Alenushka and Yerioma does not meet the aesthetic standards set by other 3D animated films shown on the Russian market.
TThe film recognizes the contributions of Soviet animation by including a giant hedgehog, a transparent reference to Yuri Norstein’s classic Hedgehog in the Fog (Ezhik v tumane, 1975). Although this hedgehog is more of a side thought than a main character, his appearances in the film keep the adults watching. The hedgehog walks upright as in Hedgehog in the Fog and has the same small round eyes and his mouth is held in an open O-shape as he wanders through the forest. For adults, the film’s most memorable moment may well be when the hedgehog, in an obvious homage to Norstein’s hedgehog, calls the German knight a “psikh” (psycho) before continuing on his way.
The movement of the 3D animation is the one area in which Alenushka and Yerioma is completely unable to compete with foreign 3D animated films. Creating lifelike character movement remains elusive in 3D animated films although Pixar and DreamWorks have been much more successful than most of their competitors. The result is that often the characters and backgrounds in Alenushka and Yerioma are out of focus and quick movements of the characters result in double or triple images on the screen. The dance numbers especially have a tendency to fall into blurry and double images. Difficulties in rendering movement, however, are not always present which may be a result of lack of time and money as well as the limitations of the software used to create the animated film. Alenushka and Yerioma utilized motion capture as a means to create believable movement within the animation. Professional dancers and choreographers developed and performed the numbers. However, even with the advancements in motion capture the goal of truly lifelike characters and movement remain elusive.
The plot of Alenushka and Yerioma follows a traditional Russian fairy tale scheme. Alenushka receives magic apples for her kindness to the animals in the forest. Yerioma is forced to go on a quest with the hope of finding his kidnapped love and returning her to her kingdom. Along the way Yerioma must overcome many obstacles, including the German Knight and the Middle Eastern Sheik who are also interested in obtaining the hand of the princess. However, the screenwriters manage to throw a few modern-day plot twists into the more traditional fairy tale. Alenushka, introduced in the beginning of the film as Dormidont’s niece, manages to catch Yerioma’s eye at the beginning of the film. But Alenushka, in a fit of jealously, bewitches Yerioma, who has happened upon one of the magic apples, to make him fall in love with the princess Vseslava. The film continues to add various plot twists including Alenushka turning herself into a show horse and into the spitting image of Vseslava, as Alenushka attempts to win back Yerioma’s love. So while this modern fairy tale picks up on traditional masking of the real hero, Alenushka’s jealousy, sarcasm and self-centeredness, which all backfire on her, make her a fairytale character with a 21st century personality.
Modern and traditional fairytales contain several moral lessons for the audience, and Alenushka and Yerioma is no different. Characters such as the German Knight, Russian Viovode and the Middle Eastern Sheik are all punished for their greed. This is particularly true of the Middle Eastern Sheik who is interested in obtaining Alenushka as his 366th wife. However, when his two envoys, the brawny but stupid one-eyed Cyclops and the crafty petite astrologer, reach the Russian palace they kidnap instead Vseslava, the masculine-looking invention-building Pippi Longstocking princess, who happily agrees to go on the adventure to the exotic East. Upon seeing Vseslava the sexist Sheik immediately wants to send her back but Vseslava already has plans for rebuilding the Sheik’s palace and for launching her inventions. The Sheik has obviously met his match in the strong-willed princess who will be running his Eastern palace the way she wants in the future. Thus greed and sexism are halted by the determined and confident Vseslava.
The most unusual moral message concerns the main characters Alenushka and Yerioma. Their connection is certainly based on physical appearances, as their encounters are brief and most often include some sort of compromising position. In their very first meeting Yerioma ends up on top of Alenushka, their faces only inches away from each other in a very sexual position. The concluding moral of the film picks up upon this physicality. When Alenushka is faced with only one remaining magic apple she is placed in a precarious position. With the first apple she bewitched Yerioma to fall in love with Vseslava. With the second apple, she turned herself into a horse in order to follow and keep an eye on Yerioma. With the third and final apple, she decides to turn herself into the likeness of Vseslava in order to get Yerioma to love her. The plan backfires when Yerioma is able to remember on his own that he is really in love with Alenushka and is not interested in Alenushka-in-the-shape-of-Vseslava. Yerioma, it seems, is in love with Alenushka’s physical body and not the Amazon-like Vseslava. The moral seems to be that beauty and physical appearance are in fact as important as Alenushka believes in the beginning of the film as she constantly looks in the mirror and flirts with her body. On top of this the audience and the Tsar are told that Alenushka is really the Tsar’s daughter, endowing her not only with beauty but also with the rights to the Palace. The only redeeming message of the final moral is that Aunt Efrosinya tells Alenushka that there is no such thing as magic apples as every woman has the possibility of working her own magic in life. With this knowledge Alenushka is able to turn herself back into her own likeness and so the couple is finally united.
On the whole, Alenushka and Yerioma represents a substantial step forward for Russian animation, bringing closer the day when it can truly compete with the best productions of foreign studios. The website for this film at Website is superbly done, offering interesting and provocative entertainment for both adults and children. Adults can read interviews with the screenwriters and follow in-depth articles about the production process. Children can sing along, karaoke style, to the original songs and put make-up on Alenushka in one of the online games. The website also announces that this group is now working on The New Adventure of Alenushka and Yerioma which is due for release in 2009. Hopefully, this new adventure will take Russian 3-D animation to the next level.
Images from the films website
University of California at Irvine
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Hartmann, Ulrike. Review of Il'ia Maksimov's Dobrynia Nikitich and the Snake Gorynych Kinokultura 14 (2006).
Hicks, Jeremy. Review on Iurii Kulakov's Prince Vladimir. Kinokultura 16 (2007).
Ivanov, Aleksandr. “Ekh, Alenushka, ukhnem!” Volgograd.ru (24 October 2008).
MacFadyen, David. Review of Bronzit, Konstantin’s Review of Alesha Popovich and Tugarin the Serpent. Kinokultura 9 (2005).
Strukov, Vlad. Review of Vladimir Toropchin’s Il'ia Muromets and the Nightingale-Robber. KinoKultura 22 ( 2008).
Zavarova, Nadezhda. “Priklucheniia Alenushka i Yerioma: Kozliatushki-rebiatushki.” Kinokadr.ru (25 February 2009).
The Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma, Russia, 2008
Color, 3-D, 93 minutes
Director: Georgii Gitis
Script: Andrei Goncharov, Konstantin Mulin
Camera: Iurii Davydov
Composer: Konstantin Shustarev
Voices: Anton Makarskii, Inna Gomes, Renata Litvinova, Sergei Chonishvili
Producer: Gevorg Nersisian, Armen Manasarian
Production: Studio Paradiz, financial support from the Ministry of Culture and the International Fund for the Development of Film and Television for Children and Youth.
Georgii Gitis: The Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma (Prikliucheniia Alenushki i Eremy, 2008)
reviewed by Lora Mjolsness © 2009