Issue 29 (2010)

Georgii Gitis: The New Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma (Novye prikliucheniia Alenushki i Eremy 2009)

reviewed by Natalie Kononenko © 2010


alenushkaThe New Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma is the sequel to Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma (Prikliucheniia Alenushki i Eremy, 2008). It is Russia’s second 3-D animation feature. According to scriptwriter Andrei Goncharov, New Adventures, like its predecessor, is supposed to be a fairytale (volshebnaia skazka) for today’s audience. It is meant to address contemporary issues, showing young people how to “achieve mutual understanding” and teaching them to “reject egotism, greed, falsehood, snobbism, haughtiness.” In order to address contemporary issues through the medium of a tale, the film “intentionally mixes traditional and contemporary elements, language included” (Goncharov).

How well does the film succeed in its goals? It does have fairytale elements. The name of the heroine is taken from the widely known Russian folktale, Sister Alenushka and Brother Ivanushka (Sestritsa Alenushka i bratets Ivanushka). In fact, according to Goncharov, the creative team began with Alenushka’s name and worked from there. But the plots of both Adventures and New Adventures have about as much in common with the Alenushka folktale as the “heroic blockbusters” have with the byliny: very little.

alenushkaThe plot of the movie, to the extent that it has one, bears some resemblance to the structure of a quest tale. The story opens with Alenushka living with Tsar Dormidont and Aunt Efrosin’ia (the previous film had revealed that Alenushka is really a princess and Dormidont’s daughter). Alenushka wants to be a fashion designer, but her most ardent wish is to marry her true love, Yerioma. He, in turn, dreams of making it big as a rock star and wants to go on tour to establish his rock credentials before settling down. The situation is resolved when Tsar Dormidont decides that they should all go on a trip to the palace of Shah Rakhman, a Middle Eastern potentate who, in the previous film, married Vseslava, Dormidont’s older daughter. Vseslava, a girl with an interest in rockets rather than garments and one who constantly appears in overalls, uses her access to Shah Rakhman’s oil wealth to build a rocket that will conquer space. All is going well, but there are two problems. One is that the evil duo of the Voevoda (Warrior) and the Knight Frauenlob von Zwetter want to steal Vseslava’s invention, sell it to the Chinese Emperor, and make lots of money. The other problem is that the conniving and power-hungry Astrologer (Zvezdochet) Farid spies through a pink and glowing crystal of power and resets the rocket’s guidance system for Africa, the location of the crystal, instead of the intended destination in space. As all the actors converge on the scene, things inevitably go wrong and the passengers on the rocket’s test flight are Shah Rakhman and the evil Knight instead of the Shah’s obedient servant, the Cyclops Timur. Rakhman and the Knight land in Africa and are greeted by a shaman and a tribe of women with a particular taste for men—in cooked form—for these are cannibals. Vseslava, Alenushka, and Yerioma rush to their rescue in an older flying-contraption built by Vseslava, with Farid scrambling on board at the last minute. They are caught in a storm and crash, but manage to rescue Rakhman and the Knight from the cooking pot. The actual rescue is quite complicated, with Farid seizing the crystal he had desired, a Chinese maiden sent to retrieve the promised rocket arriving on her mechanical dragon, and the Cyclops being teleported to the scene by Efrosin’ia’s magic. Complications aside, everyone is saved and they all travel home in Vseslava’s rocket, there to live happily ever after – or until the next Alenushka and Yerioma sequel. 

alenushkaReferences to Norshtein seem to be popular in modern animation and the one here is to Hedgehog in the Fog (Ezhik v tumane, 1975): a giant Hedgehog appears in the opening scene and wanders through the film, looking for Alenushka. In the first Adventures movie, the heroine, uncertain of her magic, had accidentally turned him into a giant. He now searches for her, trying to get her to return him to normal size, or pathetically howls at the moon in his isolation and loneliness. He is extremely polite and pleads to be noticed, while everyone ignores him despite his enormous size. In the end Alenushka, in spite of the difficulties to control her magic powers, does as the hedgehog asks and he happily joins a group of other hedgehogs.

While the main story line may be skimpy, the compensation for lack of plot is music. All of the characters sing and dance: in the opening scene, Alenushka models stunning costumes as she sings about her desires; as they boil Shah Rakhman and the Knight in their cooking pot, the African cannibals sing about their love of men, using snakes as microphones; Efrosin’ia and the Cyclops sing about their newly-discovered and unexpected love for each other when they are alone while everyone else heads out on the rescue mission. All the characters sing about the joys of love in the end as they fly home in Vseslava’s rocket. But it is doubtful that the music is sufficiently attractive to make the story interesting. Audience reaction has been mixed. One comment on kinopoisk.ru stated that, if the first Alenushka and Yerioma movie left viewers wondering what the whole thing was about and why you had spent your money, then the sequel recreated that feeling of bewilderment. Another on-line commentator said that the songs were not good enough to be memorable. Still others claimed that their children enjoyed the movie, especially the singing and dancing, though one added that his son asked if they might go see Avatar (Twentieth Century Fox, 2009) again.

alenushkaThe other redeeming feature of this film is the animation. Adventures was the first Russian 3-D feature and thus invited comparisons to Pixar and Dream Works. Lora Mjolsness complained that the characters were not realistically rendered, many having helmet hair and balloon-like clothing. On-line commentators voiced similar sentiments, stating that Russian animation still has a way to go. However, this is not Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Square Pictures, 2001) which was meant to look realistic and went as far as showing the movement of individual hairs on the characters’ heads. New Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma is supposed to be make-believe and the less-than-real figures do not protrude from the overall texture. The helmet hair and the balloon clothing fit the other exaggerated physical features of the characters. Moreover, the sequel seems to be technically better than the first film with none of the blurriness in the dance scenes that Mjolsness mentions in relation to the first film. On the contrary, the technical expertise required to make the large breasts on one of the harem dancers in Shah Rakhman’s court bounce in time to the music is quite impressive.

However, when I viewed the film for the first time, I was shocked by the display of negative stereotypes, especially in the light of Goncharov’s comments. Alenushka and Yerioma may sing about love, but they are vacuous and self-centered. Yerioma is a lazy do-nothing whose only interest is music. According to Goncharov, he was originally supposed to be a knight (bogatyr), presumably of the shining-armor type, but he ended up as a peasant with no distinguishing traits other than his ability to sing and play the balalaika. Alenushka is a primping princess. She is concerned about her appearance, checking her makeup even upon landing in the jungle. As an on-line commentator put it, the only interesting female character is Vseslava—and she seems condemned to a life in a harem.

alenushkaThe stereotypes go far beyond the ones mentioned by on-line commentators. Vseslava is a Soviet woman, clad in overalls and always with a wrench in her hand: a woman-builder or constructor. She knows karate and she means business. But she is a figure of the past. She is not the heroine and does not represent the type of woman that children would want to emulate. She is not the object of Yerioma’s desire, and her fate is to be mated with the rather effete padishah. The Tsar and Efrosin’ia are also relics of the past. They are, in many ways, sweet parents, but they reach out to others through food: the Tsar is short and roly-poly. His forte is cooking and he consistently wears a pink apron. He brings all sorts of dishes on the journey that starts the action of the film. He even tries to interfere in the culinary practices of the cannibals. He constantly tries to feed his children sandwiches or pirozhki. His children associate him with food, and when Vseslava thinks that she is about to die in the crash of one of her flying machines, her request to her father is for one last pirozhok. Efrosin’ia, though a beautiful and elegant woman skilled in magic, wins the heart of Cyclops Timur by offering him huge amounts of assorted food.  For all of their positive features, these two adults who should be role models are incapable of showing love other than by feeding people.

alenushkaThe real shocker is the portrayal of the non-Russians, who all—except the Cyclops—speak broken Russian and represent negative stereotypes. In terms of his speech, Shah Rakhman has real problems with gender agreement. He is also a sexual gourmand. Although he seems to love Vseslava, he has a huge harem and he tries to seduce one of the African cannibals. The German knight von Zwetter speaks with a thick German accent, frequently throwing in German words. He is conniving, loves to build, but even more he likes to destroy things. The Chinese are inscrutable and they hardly speak at all. They too are power-hungry. They may be technically advanced, but they always want more. Farid seems to represent the devious Jew: he has a large, hooked nose and he speaks with the appropriate accent; he is alternatively greedy and obsequious. But the most shocking portrayal is of the African blacks. As already noted, they are shown as cannibals, with skulls and other human bones all around their camp. The shaman, the only male, has the build of a gorilla with short, bowed legs, huge, hulking shoulders, and arms that reach almost to the ground. He sports a blond Dennis Rodman-like crew cut, but this does not diminish his ape-like appearance. The three women all have enormous breasts, huge hips, and thick lips. Two have thick legs and resemble the Hottentot Venus. These are not images that will help children, or anyone else, “reject snobbism and haughtiness” and “achieve understanding” of other peoples. But perhaps this is what the Russians want. In the various on-line evaluations there was some discussion of Alenushka and Yerioma as role models, but no commentary on the characters who represent non-Russians.

Russian fairytale animation has come a long way since Soiuzmul’tfil’m, when cartoons were based on Afanas’ev’s Russian Fairy Tales (Russkie narodnye skazki), a collection of folktales, or on literary fairytales. Alenushka made in this period (1953, animated by Ol’ga Khodataeva) adhered closely to the folktale. The animation was drawn over shots of live actors and the figures looked realistic. Alenushka displayed all the personality traits that the artistic team wanted to promote. She was self-sacrificing rather than egotistical. She tried to protect her little brother and, when he turned into a goat despite her efforts, she did her utmost to restore him to human form. She was not snobby or haughty or greedy in any way. But perhaps she was just too nice and would appear insipid to today’s audience. Perhaps the song-and-dance of stereotypes that the film under review presents is what the public wants. Although, judging by the mixed reviews that this film has received, perhaps the Russian film industry has yet to find an effective formula.

Natalie Kononenko
University of Alberta

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Works Cited

Goncharov, Andrei on Render.ru. Release information on the film.

Mjolsness, Lora, “Review of Adventures of Alenushka and Erema,” KinoKultura 24 (2009)

 


New Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma, Russia, 2008
Color: 80 minutes; 3-D animation
Director: Georgii Gitis
Script: Andrei Goncharov, Konstantin Mulin
Composer: Konstantin Shustrev
Artist: Vladimir Gagarin
Producer: Gevorg Nersisian
Voices: Anton Makarskii (Yerioma), Inna Gomes (Alenushka), Nataliia Shchukina (Vseslava), Renata Litvinova (Efrosin’ia), Aleksandr Pozharov (Tsar Dormidont), Aleksandr Reva (Voevoda), Evgenii Voskresenskii (Frauenlob von Zwetter), Sergei Chonishvili (Shah Rakhman, Shaman Babuchanga), Viacheslav Grishechkin (Farid), Aleksandr Naumov (Timur),
Production: Paradise Film

Georgii Gitis: The New Adventures of Alenushka and Yerioma (Novye prikliucheniia Alenushki i Eremy 2009)

reviewed by Natalie Kononenko © 2010

Updated: 18 Jul 10