Issue 66 (2019)

Konstantin Bronzit: Three Bogatyrs and the Heiress to the Throne (Tri bogatyria i naslednitsa prestola, 2018)

reviewed by Laura Pontieri © 2019

Three Bogatyrs and the Heiress to the Throne is the ninth film of the Bogatyr series produced by the St Petersburg studio Melnitsa. In this film, the Kievan Prince is allegedly dying of a heart attack and decides to send the three bogatyrs for a legitimate successor to his throne, his niece Zabava.

Despite the title, the three bogatyrs do not play the main role in the film, they merely drive the quest and help with the denouement at the end. As in the previous films of the series, their solely remarkable trait is their extraordinary strength. The studio seems to use the bogatyrs’ names to attract an already loyal audience and shows no desire to further explore or develop its heroes. Around the three bogatyrs, indeed, there is  commercial success derived not only from the  revenue but also from videogames and various second-market products that capitalize on their image. The studio certainly exploits the success of the series in any possible commercial aspect and keeps it growing with a strong marketing policy. The profits derived from the series help to supplement the state support from the Fond Kino and so bear the high costs behind the production of feature-length films.

3Bogatyrs-naslednitsaKonstantin Bronzit comes back as a director in this ninth film. The talented and prize-winning animator was the one who propelled the characters’ success with the first film Alesha Popovich and Tugarin the Serpent  (dir. Bronzit, 2004). His crafty hand can be noticed in the overall directorial choices that make this film, unlike some other films in the series, coherent and well structured.

A joyful ball at the Prince’s palace begins the film and, while re-introducing the familiar characters to the audience, sets the light and playful tone of the movie. The same ball scene reoccurs at the end with a twofold function—as a grand finale and as a frame to the film. The very first and last scene of the film provide an additional framing device, which, however, is not ultimately successful. The film begins with a couple of birds building a nest and ends with newborn chicks chirping away—if the device works as a frame, the image is utterly unrelated to the story, neither plot-wise, nor thematically.

3Bogatyrs-naslednitsaThe silly tone of the film is established from the beginning with the grimacing faces of the dancing prince and horse. The horse Iulii, a favorite of the public, is the liveliest figure in the film - although not the most original, as he follows in the footsteps of many comic American animation characters. His logorrhea, verbal puns, funny faces and unpredictable reactions are the main elements of the comic quality in the film, together with the incongruent situations he creates (for instance, when Iulii rides another horse until the situation reverses and the horse makes Iulii bring him home).

Visual gags, another traditional device of the comic, are here exploited in an often-tiring reiteration of people getting hit by mistake. While this device is perhaps overused, it is particularly successful in the scene involving two fishermen on the dock, who are victims of repetitive attacks, each time with a slight variation. This scene is especially effective in view of its function as a frame to the episode of the three bogatyrs at Zabava’s village.

3Bogatyrs-naslednitsaEvery so often, music provides a comic function, in particular when the rolling boat captained by a sea-sick green bogatyr is accompanied by Prokofiev’s well-known Dance of the Knights; and when the bogatyrs’ slow-motion attack scene comes with a contemporary pop tune that keeps the pace and creates an ironic comment. In the rest of the film, music is not extensively used and only occasionally underlines the story and situations: Hollywood-style action music emphasizes the more adventurous scenes, traditional music underlines folkloric elements, and lyrical music sets the Romantic tone of the more emotional episodes.

If the film is entertaining as a result of some comic devices, it mainly catches the spectators’ attention with numerous chases and a few fight scenes. The chase scenes display some original twists, for instance, an abacus turns into a skateboard on which Elisei escapes the guards; or—here most interesting for its subtle political overtone—an “army” of academics are employed as mere human force to amuse the emperor’s son and carry his cart around the city.

3Bogatyrs-naslednitsaA few other fleeting political hints are scattered throughout the film, such as a cue about rebuffed potential elections and another on a snubbed scythe as a valid weapon. Apart from the tongue-in-cheek satirical moment, the scene in which the scythe appears is likely the most successful episode in terms of animation art. The opening and closing of the cabinet doors, while Elisei and Zabava look for Elisei’s sword, is rendered by a completely dark background broken by squares of light and a point of view from inside the cabinet. The crafty composition of the frame, the vibrant colors employed, and the ingenious alternating play of light and darkness create an original and successful visual choice, which emphasizes the steady rhythm of the search and the characters’ humorous exchanges.

3Bogatyrs-naslednitsaRegrettably, not all scenes offer the same quality of animation art, and some are definitely undeveloped. The poor quality of both drawing and movement in the market scene, for example, spoils an opportunity to showcase some captivating folkloric details. Nonetheless, this scene features an anachronistic self-referential moment – a merchant is caught selling statuettes of the three bogatyrs – which could surely provoke some laughter in the audience.

In order to further captivate its spectators, the film could not refrain from romantic cliché scenes, for example, Elisei and Zabava’s reconciliation surrounded by sunset colors and romantic music. Furthermore, the film, following a fashionable trend, could not desist from heroic acts, especially if carried out by girls endowed with extraordinary martial art skills, as when Zabava employs her strength and dexterity to fight the emperor’s army.

3Bogatyrs-naslednitsaFinally, the film inexorably could not miss a direct allusion  to American animation, namely when Elisei shows up as a replica of Aladdin. The director surely exploits his audience’s unquestionable devotion to this kind of animation.

In conclusion, the film possesses  a good structure, a steady rhythm, and some humorous moments, but also a frivolous story and a superficial development of the characters. The entertaining effect results in verbal and visual gags, chases, fight scenes and rare hints and tributes likely appreciated by the audience. The moral is feeble: the importance of sincerity, forgiveness, and faith that true love will not be demeaned by the other’s weaknesses. The bogatyrs should be the ones who carry  the moral, but instead their forceful arrival in the last scene shows a village literally destroyed in the middle – is their strength really a positive trait?

The film has no pretence of an educational purpose or artistic showcase. It is designed and meant to entertain and excite the viewer. It is likely successful with the audience, unless they are looking for more refreshing and original solutions.

Laura Pontieri
University of Toronto

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Three Bogatyrs and the Heiress to the Throne, Russia, 2018
Color, 90 minutes
Director: Konstantin Bronzit
Screenplay: Vadim Sveshnikov, Maksim Sveshnikov, Konstantin Bronzit
Composer: Mikhail Chertyshchev
Production Design: Iuliia Maslova, Dar’ia Ivanova
Editing Sergei Glezin
Cast (voices): Sergei Makovetskii, Dmitrii Bykovskii-Romashov, Valerii Solov’ev, Oleg Kulikovich, Dmitrii Vysotskii, Anatolii Petrov, Ekaterina Gorokhovskaia, Iurii Tarasov, Maksim Sergeev, Aleksandr Boiarskii
Producers: Sergei Sel’ianov, Aleksandr Boiarskii
Production Animation Studio Melnitsa, Film Company СТВ

Konstantin Bronzit: Three Bogatyrs and the Heiress to the Throne (Tri bogatyria i naslednitsa prestola, 2018)

reviewed by Laura Pontieri © 2019

Updated: 2019