Issue 63 (2019)

Konstantin Feoktistov: The Three Bogartyrs and the Egyptian Princess (Tri bogatyria i printsessa Egipta, 2018)

reviewed by Olga Blackledge© 2019

The Three Bogatyrs and the Egyptian Princess is the eighth film in the series of animated feature films that focus on three Russian folk characters—the bogatyrs Alesha Popovich, Dobrynia Nikitich, and Ilia Muromets—in an ersatz-historical setting of Kievan Rus. The films have been produced by the St Petersburg animation studio Melnitsa since 2004 and have enjoyed steady financial success. Being marketed as family movies (for ages 6+), the films have traditionally been released at the end of December or in early January to hit the winter holiday season in Russia (which starts with New Year’s Eve) and they have never failed at the box office. Initially, each of the films was supposed to have a different director, which was supposed to bring new ideas and new life into each film. However, starting from the fifth film, Three Bogatyrs on Distant Shores (Tri bogatyria: Na dal’nikh beregakh, 2012), this policy was put on hold, as the last four films have been directed by Konstantin Feoktistov.[1]

Despite their consistently high grossing at the box office, film reviews for the series have become increasingly negative, with the criticism peaking at the previous film, The Three Bogatyrs and the Sea King (Tri bogatyria i morskoi tsar’, 2017). The film was criticized for both the inferior quality of the imagery and the badly developed plot (see, for instance, Lora Mjolsness’s review). The reviews for The Three Bogatyrs and the Egyptian Princess have been only slightly more positive. The film has also been criticized for incoherence of the plot, but some news sources have described it as entertaining and fun. For instance, Pavel Solomatin (2017) wrote that the film turned out to be better than the previous one: “It is much funnier, more dynamic and spectacular, and it has a tighter script. Also, The Three Bogatyrs and the Egyptian Princess does not overload the audience with an attempt to address burning social issues and to discuss family issues or politics, it just offers an entertaining journey around the ancient tomb.” There is no doubt that the film emphasizes entertainment, but the main conflict is a metaphorical representation of the threat of global warming and climate change, which is an overtly political issue.

3bogatyrs egyptian princess In the film’s prologue, the events which, as we learn, happened 3,000 years ago, established the balance of the natural temperatures through an agreement between the cold and the heat represented by Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and the Pharaoh of Egypt respectively. In order to prevent a new Ice Age, Ded Moroz and the Pharaoh created a cup of life, in which the fire was supposed to sustain the balance of seasons, temperatures, climate, and, ultimately, everything living on planet Earth. They hid the cup in a pyramid and gave the key of life to Nefertiti, the Pharaoh’s daughter, at the time still a little girl.

Fast forward thousands of years, to the time of the bogatyrs—the times of Kievan Rus, according to the film—and a previously unknown thirteenth month Durilo, which Ded Moroz created as a replacement. He decides to break the natural balance of temperatures. To do so, he would need to break into the pyramid, and to this end he concocts a plan that involves the three bogatyrs. On New Year’s Eve, Durilo pretends to be Ded Moroz and arranges for the kidnapping of the bogatyrs’ wives. Having persuaded the three bogatyrs that their wives have been abducted to Egypt and hidden in the pyramid, Durilo tricks them into going to Egypt and moving the pyramid, just like he planned. Once in the pyramid, he uses the help of the unsuspecting Alesha to shift the mechanism sustaining the temperature in the cup to a critical level, causing a heat-wave on the planet.

3bogatyrs egyptian princessThe second interweaving plot line involves—traditionally for the three bogatyrs’ films—the Prince of Kiev and Iulii, the talking horse. Among the multiple New Year’s gifts, the Prince receives a holiday certificate, and Iulii persuades him to go to Egypt the see the pyramids. Having entered the pyramid already opened by the bogatyrs, they tour its rooms and come across an ancient drawing depicting the cup of life with the key to it. However, they assume that the drawing represents a treasure map and embark on a treasure hunt. They take the key from Nefertiti’s mummy, eventually breaking the key and almost causing a second Ice Age.

3bogatyrs egyptian princessThe third plot line is that of the bogatyrs’ wives, who trick their kidnappers, travel to Egypt on a cloud made by Ded Moroz, and help their husbands.

In the end, order is restored: the natural order of the balance of temperatures, as well as the royal order of the Prince: on the way back from Egypt, the Prince orders Gorynych the Dragon to put on a police car siren, overtakes Ded Moroz’s sledge, and comes to Kiev first—not a very subtle joke about the use of sirens by government cars in Russia.

3bogatyrs egyptian princessWhile the other characters in the film pursue their own goals, the bogatyrs become a tool for different agents: they unwittingly help Durilo get into the pyramid, which almost results in an irrevocable global warming, and then they help Ded Moroz restore the natural balance. Their own motivations in their actions, however, have nothing to do with those of Durilo or Ded Moroz; in the first case, they think that they are saving their wives, and in the second, after Alesha follows Durilo while Dobrynia and Il’ia remain outside and meet with their wives, Dobrynia and Il’ia are on a mission to save Alesha. Thus, their actions are motivated by their strive to preserve their families and friends rather than by considerations of power, like in Durilo’s case, or considerations of entertainment and greed, like in the case of the Prince and Iulii, or considerations of global harmony, like in the case of Ded Moroz and Nefertiti. From the bogatyrs’ perspective, they are always on a mission to restore the order of their family lives and help their friends. However, as the film suggests, such a motivation behind their actions makes them an easy target for manipulation; their role, ultimately, is that of an instrument used by other agents. Even saving the world from global warming that they themselves initiated happens by accident rather than as a result of their will.

3bogatyrs egyptian princess
3bogatyrs egyptian princess
3bogatyrs egyptian princess

3bogatyrs egyptian princess The film simultaneously mocks and celebrates this role of the bogatyrs. This is especially emphasized in the character of Alesha, who comes across as “the guy from next door” (“svoi paren’”), who is loved by everybody, including the mummies in the pyramid and the dead princess Nefertiti; the latter is accidentally brought back to life by Iulii, and when she sees Alesha, she immediately falls in love with him. He is the only bogatyr who is trying to put in a good word for Durilo with Ded Moroz after Durilo’s plan fails completely. And yet, Alesha’s actions are largely naïve and at times openly foolish. For instance, he buys into Durilo’s plan to heat up the planet and the only reason why he starts thinking that this might be wrong is because he remembers about Liubava telling him that tomatoes die in heat. “I like tomatoes,” says Alesha and stops winding up the mechanism that heats up the planet. In this film, Alesha’s character acquires features of another traditional Russian fairy-tale character, Ivan the Fool, which reinforces his comical rather than epic qualities.

The film continues the KVN-style[2] humor also employed in the previous films, using contemporary language and jokes. This time, many jokes have a New Year theme; in conjunction with the humorous rendition of the bogatyrs’ roles and the variety-show structure of the narrative, the jokes compensate for a convoluted story. Overall, the film is a hodgepodge of gigs and humorous vignettes glued together by a common setting. They operate on the principle of New Year fireworks: there is much going on, but once it is over, there is not much left.


Notes

1] Three Bogatyrs and the Heiress to the Throne (Tri bogatyria i naslednitsa prestola) has its release scheduled for 27 December 2018 and is directed by Konstantin Bronzit, the director of the first film of the series.

2] KVN, The Club of the Funny and Witty, started in the Soviet Union and continues in the post-Soviet space as a program that features teams competing against each other in their ability to make the best jokes, both prepared beforehand and impromptu. Its format is close to stand-up comedy, but the jokes are primarily dialogical.

Olga Blackledge
University of Pittsburgh

Comment on this article on Facebook

Works Cited

Solomatin, Pavel. 2017. “Retsenziia: ‘Tri bogatyria i printsessa Egipta’: Konia na skaku mumifitsiruet ***” InterMedia 20 December.

 


The Three Bogatyrs and the Egyptian Princess, Russia, 2017,
Color, 75 minutes
Director Konstantin Feoktistov
Scriptwriters Aleksandr Boiarskii, Svetlana Sachenko
Production Design Andrei Iakobchuk
Music Mikhail Chertishchev
Editing Sergei Glezin
Voices: Sergei Makovetskii, Oleg Kulikovich, Valerii Solov’ev, Dmitrii Bykovskii-Romashov
Producers Sergei Sel’ianov, Aleksandr Boiarskii
Production Film Company СТВ, Animation Studio Melnitsa [Mill], with support from the Cinema Fund
Release (RF) 28 December 2017 (Nashe Kino)  

Konstantin Feoktistov: The Three Bogartyrs and the Egyptian Princess (Tri bogatyria i printsessa Egipta, 2018)

reviewed by Olga Blackledge© 2019

Updated: 2019