Issue 53 (2016)

Darina Shmidt: Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf 3 (Ivan Tsarevich i seryi volk 3, 2015)

reviewed by Lora Mjolsness© 2016

Zombies, Marmalade and Russian Oil

ivan tsarevich 3The St. Petersburg animation Studio The Mill (Melnit’sa) has once again turned to Russian folklore to bring out a New Year’s animated film for Russian audiences. Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf 3 was released on January 1, 2016 and has earned $9, 63, 488. This film likely (and hopefully) completes the film trilogy based on these Russian folktale characters. The first and second film were directed by Vladimir Toropchin; however, this film is directed by Darina Schmidt, best known for her work on Luntik and his Friends (Luntik i ego druz’ia, 2007), a popular Russian animated serial also created by Melnit’sa Studio. The first two films in the series of Ivan Tsarevich were criticized for their lack of Russiannessand for lack of engaging plot respectively; the third film struggles with both concepts. In addition, the third film can be read as a negative allegory for present-day Russia. Nevertheless, Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf 3 received the 2016 Icarus, the National Animation Award, for best feature-length animation.

ivan tsarevich 3While the plot of the third film may be more solid than that of the second one, it is no more engaging or entertaining. The tired tsar decides to go on a fishing trip and leaves his 3D-Kingdom in the hands of Ivan and the Grey Wolf. However, Vasilisa, Ivan’s wife implores him to take her on a long awaited honeymoon. Ivan agrees to the trip and hastily appoints an ordinary scarecrow called Pal Palych to look after the kingdom. The Grey Wolf, the Pushkin-inspired Learned Cat (both characters from the first two films), Vasilisa and Ivan take off to Milan and Paris where they shop for clothes and destroy the tourist sites. While at the Louvre, the couple is surrounded by foreign leaders who are desperate to try the famous Russian marmalade. The heroes, who have never heard of Russian marmalade before, invite them to visit Russia.

ivan tsarevich 3Meanwhile, back in Russia the Scarecrow has come to life and hatched an evil plan to take over the world with the help of an intoxicating marmalade-drink, which spews from the ground like oil. This marmalade drugs people making the world seem perfect and eventually turning them into zombies. When the honeymooners return to Russia, Pal Palych tricks Ivan out of his body at the stroke of midnight. Ivan’s soul is forced to take shelter in a wind-up monkey toy, which Vasilisa picked up in Milan while shopping. The Grey Wolf overhears Pal Palych’s plan to take over the world, but Ivan-the-toy-monkey can offer little help. It is up to the Tsar who has joined forces with the Nightingale-Robber to save his son, the 3D-Kingdom and all the world leaders, who have come to sign trade agreements that would deliver marmalade all over the world.

ivan tsarevich 3In the end, the Tsar, the Nightingale and Kesha, a giant with a tattoo revealing the history of the scarecrow and of the marmalade in Russia, along with our heroes are able to defeat Pal Palych and his force of minion-pumpkin-head-scarecrow children. Pal Palych’s death is in his stake and not in his body (which, of course, isn’t his). The drugged people are given an antidote and are finally able to break free of the spell of the marmalade.

Like the first two films Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf contain elements of Russian folklore and culture, but the connections are superficial. Ivan and the Grey Wolf is a common Russian folktale and Ivan has characteristics of Ivan the Fool. In these traditional oral folktales Ivan is the youngest of three sons. He is usually marked by his passivity and his inability to do anything. He is not exactly stupid, but he usually clings to home and he is rather unsocial. However, in the folktale and in the film, Ivan is seen as kind and generous. In the film Ivan does not have brothers, but sidekicks: the Grey Wolf and the Learned Cat. The Tsar, returning from his fishing trip to help save the 3D-Kingdom, reminds Vasilisa that Ivan does not have the brains to build up the Empire of Marmalade that Pal Palych has set up. But Vasilisa remembers the most important characteristic of both Ivan the Fool and Ivan in the film: he is kind and would never take over the world.

ivan tsarevich 3Other elements of Russian folklore are spread throughout the film, including similarities of Pal Palych to the folk villain Koshchei the Deathless. Pal Palych’s death, like that of Koshchei, is not in his body. In Russian folklore Koshchei is a villain who kidnaps women; his death is usually hidden inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in a chest, which is buried under an oak tree, on an island in the ocean. Other versions of his death exist as well. In “Maria Morevna”, Prince Ivan’s horse smashes Koshchei’s head with his hoof and Ivan finishes him off with his mace. In the film, Vasilisa, in her only heroic moment, breaks Palych’s stake in two and kills the villain, returning Ivan’s body to the rightful owner at the end.

ivan tsarevich 3Aleksandr Pushkin is also referenced in several places in the film. The Learned Cat appears as Ivan’s sidekick, and there are several other references to Pushkin’s Ruslan and Liudmila. In addition, Pal Palych quotes sections of Tatiana’s letter to Onegin from Evgenii Onegin in order to woo Vasilisa after he has taken over Ivan’s body. Another nod to Pushkin appears when the fish, which the Tsar caught during his fishing trip, turns out to be a magical talking fish, who is willing to grant the Tsar three wishes. However, we can assume that the Tsar has heard the fairytale “The Fisherman and the Fish” before. Instead of wishing for the end of the Pal Palych and his children, the tsar wishes for a new fishing rod, his picture on the cover of a fishing magazine and a new colored roof on the palace. Hence, Pushkin and Russianness superficially permeate the film.

ivan tsarevich 3Russians are not depicted as entirely positive characters in this film despite their kindness. When Ivan, Vasilisa, the Grey Wolf and the Learned Cat travel through Europe on their honeymoon, the group represents the typical tourist. Ivan and the Grey Wolf destroy the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They make a scene in the Italian opera and vandalize artwork in the Louvre. Despite her role in killing Pal Palych at the end of the film, Vasilisa is the stereotypical woman who spends much of her time shopping. With her guidebook in her hand, she attempts to make Ivan cultured, but really only demonstrates her own lack of understanding.

ivan tsarevich 3This film also has a connection to the well-known Russian theater group Kvartet I. Three of its members, Leonid Barats, Rostislav Khait and Sergei Petreikov, wrote the screenplay for this film, which in many ways is a satirical allegory about Russian oil rather than an animated film for children. The film raises questions about the oil industry and the political situation in Russia today. The marmalade, like the oil industry in Russia, blinds the common Russian people about the true state of the 3D-Kingdom. The common people are being fed lies and deception. They believe that oil (marmalade) will bring truth and prosperity to Russia. And the younger generation, like Ivan, regardless of his kindness, is not heroic enough to save Russia. Only the old tsar is able to see the truth of the situation. 

Despite the biting political allegory the film ends on a positive note and leaves the 3D-Kingdom in good hands. The Tsar, Nightingale-Robber, Ivan, Vasilisa, the Grey Wolf, the cat and Kesha (representing both might and historical knowledge) defeat Pal Palych and his minions and save the world.

Lora Mjolsness
UC Irvine

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Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf 3, Russia, 2015
Color, 76 minutes
Director: Darina Shmidt
Scriptwriters: Leonid Barats, Rostislav Khait and Sergei Petreikov
Art Director: Aleksandr Efremov
Producers: Sergei Sel’ianov, Aleksandr Boiarskii
Voices: Ivan Okhlobystin, Nikita Efremov, Mikhail Boiarskii, Aleksandr Boiarskii, Tat’iana Bunina, Mikhail Khrustalev, Dmitrii Vysotskii, Anatolii Petrov, Oleg Kulikovich, Roman Nikitin, Konstantin Bronzit.

Darina Shmidt: Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf 3 (Ivan Tsarevich i seryi volk 3, 2015)

reviewed by Lora Mjolsness© 2016

Updated: 03 Jul 16