Issue 57 (2017)

Konstantin Feoktistov: Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King (Tri bogatyria i morskoi tsar, 2016)

reviewed by Lora Mjolsness © 2017

3 Knights and Sea King The newest film in the “Bogatyr” series from Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company, Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King, was released widely in Russia on 1 January 2017. The film, produced by Sergei Sel’ianov and Aleksandr Boiarskii and directed by Konstantin Feoktistov, is the seventh in the series. It features two parallel plots that come together at the end of the film. The three bogatyrs, troubled by marital woes and a loss of bogatyr strength, travel to China in search of a dragon’s tooth, a symbol of wisdom and might. While the bogatyrs are gone, the Prince of Kiev embarks on an adventure to rob the Sea King in an attempt to balance the budget. The two plots come together when the Sea King, the pseudo-villain, submerges Kiev in search of a bride and falls in love with Nastasia, Dobrynia’s wife. At the end of the film the newly strengthened bogatyrs return to a wet Kiev and attempt to save their wives, their Prince and their city.

While the first three films in the Bogatyr series introduced each one of the bogatyrs, Il’ia Muromets, Dobrynia Nikitich and Alesha Popovich, the subsequent films have brought the three heroes together to fight villains. In previous films they have fought the Shamakhan queen, Baba Yaga and Kolyvan, and a living oak tree. However, the premise of Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King is that the three heroes have vanquished all the villains. Instead of heroic feats the three are forced by their wives to do household chores. While Alesha and Il’ia settle into their new roles without too much resistance, Dobrynia and his wife Nastasia argue and become distant. Sitting at home, the bogatyrs have lost their superhuman strength and have instead become just humans. The problem with the heroes running out of villains in this film is that the bogatyrs do not appear very heroic and it is unclear where the series is headed in the future.

3 Knights and Sea KingFamily relations and the strength of women are some of the unifying themes in Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King. The focus is on Dobrynia and his troubled relationship with Nastasia. Both characters experience internal conflicts, which are inherent to family discord. Dobryna leaves his wife for an adventure with the other bogatyrs, while Nastasia is courted by the Sea King. Nastasya’s character is developed more deeply as she acts as the main force in dealing with the villainous Sea King. A lot of the humor in this film is also related to family life, sexual orientation and male and female power relationships. However, while these themes of relationship growth and family discord may speak to the adult audience, it may be more difficult for a six year old to appreciate.

3 Knights and Sea KingHowever, this film seems to be missing the moralizing component that is so common in animation for a family audience. The director, perhaps intentionally, misses the chance to emphasize the theme of the necessity for and dedication to hard work. Possibly this theme was seen as too serious for an animated film, but the end result is that the film seems to advocate taking the easy way out. The bogatyrs have become weak at home and instead of putting time and effort into restoring their former bogatyr strength, they take the advice of Gorynych, the three-headed dragon, to search for a magical dragon’s tooth. The bogatyrs sneak away from Kiev in order to go on this quest. The rulers in this film are also more about doing things quickly and easily. The Prince of Kiev, on the advice of Julius, the horse–librarian–comedic sidekick, decides to go after the Sea King’s treasure, in order to make money fast. While the Prince wants to call the bogatyrs to help, Julius suggests that they do it alone with the intention of keeping all the treasure for themselves. Instead, the Prince takes up with a motley group of pirates. Of course not all animation has to have a strong moralizing side and for the younger viewer there is a fabulous setting, the underwater word of the Sea King and underwater Kiev, pirates and flying penguins. Interestingly, Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King reverses the moralizing of the previous film in the series. In The Three Bogatyrs and Julius Caesar (2015) good characters profit from honest work. While it may be argued that the Prince of Kiev has never had a love of work, the three bogatyrs have lost their work ethic in this film.

3 Knights and Sea KingThe Sea King Edward, a middle-aged teenager, has his own relationship problems and also prefers an indolent approach to life. He is unable to find a suitable bride underwater, which the audience clearly sees is a result of his inability to actually communicate with women… he hides and spies on them. When the Sea King can’t find a bride, Julius, having been taken hostage for helping to steal the Sea King’s treasure, suggests that in return for his release the Sea King may pick a bride of his choice from Kiev. The Sea King agrees and sinks Kiev to find a bride. While Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King is not a political allegory, once again the Bogatyr series makes a clear comment regarding the ineptitude of leaders, and hence of the leadership in the Kremlin today. 

3 Knights and Sea KingDespite the inconsistencies in the sunken world of Kiev, the underwater scenes are aesthetically enjoyable. While some land animals have tails and some do not and some household objects float and other do not, the colorful sea life combined with the folkloric images of a cartoon Kiev are fun and entertaining. Attention to details like the sun shining down through the water and fish swimming playfully add charm to the film. From a technical point of view, this animated film was nicely executed and I do not believe that the quality of the series has decreased over the years. 

3 Knights and Sea King The female characters in this film are much more heroic than the bogatyrs. Once Kiev is under water, Nastasia, Liubava and Alenushka, the bogatyr wives, set off to the Sea King to demand that he restore their legs and their homes. It is Nastasia who rightly decides that the Sea King is a lonely bachelor who needs looking after. The Sea King quickly falls in love with Nastasia, who orchestrates the cleaning of his palace, but she also verbally and physically abuses the Sea King to force him to put Kiev back as it was. Unlike the bogatyrs, the females in this film have not lost their strength. When the women are lured back to the Sea King’s palace a second time, it is they who lead the fight against him, not the bogatyrs. The Sea King’s advisor-bodyguard-octopus is the final strong female character in the film. The audience at first is purposely thrown off track regarding her gender, as the Prince refers to her with male pronouns when she takes Julius hostage. As the film continues hints are dropped, including glances, eyelashes and wistful comments. The octopus, Brunhilda, is just as lonely as the Sea King and at the end of the film she makes a beautiful bride. The surprise of the octopus-bodyguard-bride makes this film much more entertaining and hints at the relevant topic of gender fluidity, however in a rather stereotypical way. 

3 Knights and Sea King Nevertheless, neither the love between the Sea King and Brunhilda, nor the reunion of Nastasia and Dobrynia, are the result of hard work. Instead it is magic and luck that bring the film to an end. The Sea King sends the bogatyrs on a quest to retrieve the magical grass from fairytales. He will return Kiev back as it was in return for the grass-love potion, which the Sea King hopes to use to steal the heart of Nastasia. On the quest the bogatyrs visit Kikimora to steal the potion, but they end up building her a new home. The building of her home is the only clear example of both hard work and commitment to family in the film. Kikimora recognizes that the bogatyrs must be family men based on their actions, which sends Dobrynia back home to Nastasia to try to mend their relationship. But the resolution of their marital conflict happens more by chance rather than the actions and words of Dobrynia.

While I am not sure that we need an eighth film in the series, I would hope that the bogatyrs are more heroic in the next film or that the next director continues to focus on the heroic women of the series.

Lora Mjolsness
University of California, Irvine

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Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King, Russia, 2016
Animation, 75 minutes
Director: Konstantin Feoktistov
Scriptwriters: Aleksandr Boiarskii Svetlana Sachenko
Producers: Sergei Sel’ianov, Aleksandr Boiarskii
Production Companies: CTB Film Company, Melnitsa Animation Studio
Voice actors: Sergei Makovetskii, Dmitri Vysotskii, Oleg Kulikovich, Valerii Solov’ev, Dmitrii Bykovskii, Elena Shulman, Liia Medvedeva, Mariia Tsvetkova

Konstantin Feoktistov: Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King (Tri bogatyria i morskoi tsar, 2016)

reviewed by Lora Mjolsness © 2017