Issue 29 (2010)

Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii: Our Masha (Nasha Masha i volshebnyi oreshek, 2009)

reviewed by Erin Alpert © 2010

masha“In a far away galaxy, a magical nut is formed once every thousand years. It can grant any wish...” These words, set against a starry background and the image of a nut falling to earth as satellites track it, provide the premise for the animated film Our Masha. The heroine, Masha, is a teenage girl who believes that the only good men in the world are her toys. Upon her discovery of the magic nut, Krakatuk, magical things begin to happen. Masha shrinks and her aforementioned toy friends come to life. They are chased by two rats who wish to steal Krakatuk and in the process are all transported to a parallel world, where the real adventure begins. One of the toys, now transformed into a real man, becomes Masha’s love interest. Masha, unfortunately, is soon kidnapped by the Rat Emperor, who not only wants to use Krakatuk to become emperor but also wants to marry Masha. Her friends must find a way to prevent both of these terrible things from happening.

mashaThe film’s website notes that, in reference to the book version of this November 2009 film, the attentive reader may notice a few similarities between this story and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Hoffmann’s tale has served as the inspiration for many Russian adaptations both on stage and on screen. [1] In her review of the most recent animated version, Tat’iana Il’ina’s The Nutcracker (Shchelkunchik, 2004), Laura Pontieri Hlavacek notes that adaptations often simplify the plot of the original story and most leave out Hoffmann’s  magical nut Krakatuk. Our Masha, on the other hand, focuses on the struggle to harness its power, which has been changed from the ability to break the spell cast on Princess Pirlipat to the ability to grant one wish, no matter how great. Our Masha makes several other changes to Hoffmann’s story in order to modernize and sensationalize it: Masha, who wears a revealing crop-top shirt with low cut jeans, discovers the magic nut while snowboarding; Gosha, her nutcracker-prince, appears as a robot rather than a traditional nutcracker; and the “Mouse King” has been promoted to the “Rat Emperor,” just to name a few.

mashaThe soundtrack to Our Masha contributes both to the epic fairy tale quality and the modern feel of the story through its contrasting instrumental and vocal scores. Composer Mark Erman wrote the orchestral score for the film, which was recorded at Mosfil’m by a full orchestra under the direction of Iurii Tkachenko, who was awarded the honorary title of Meritorious Artist of the Russian Federation in 2002. In addition to this impressive orchestral cast, the 72-minute film also features nine songs written by the composers Maksim Fadeev and Nikolai Krupatin and performed by artists such as Viktoriia Daineko, Stas P’ekha, Korni, Chelsi, BiS, and others.  The film highlights the very diverse songs in several different ways: Masha, and her toys-turned-human friends Gosha, Mikhei, and Bor’ko spontaneously perform the song “Friends Rap” directly to the camera, complete with music-video inspired dance moves; the emperor, suddenly sporting pink pants, a pink vest, a pink top hat and a microphone, performs his feature song to a packed stadium gathered for the execution of Masha and her friends; Masha spends several minutes falling and reminiscing about her friends to the sound of Viktoriia Daineko singing “My Angel.” These songs often appear suddenly and with a jarringly different tone than the scene they interrupt. While they are generally not integral to the progression of the plot, the musical numbers do add to the film’s fantasy-world-atmosphere, where something completely unexpected and strange—such as a spontaneous rap song—could happen at any moment.

mashaOur Masha was directed by Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii, of Anti-Killer and Anti-Killer 2 fame. To those familiar with these two violent, Hollywood-style blockbuster films, Our Masha may seem like a radical departure for the director. Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii himself admits that he was unsure about taking on an animated film, but says he is an adventurer at heart and that the producers eventually persuaded him to work on this project (“Krakatuk na podkhode”). The decision to make this film most likely stemmed from more than just an adventurous spirit. Our Masha’s budget was over three million dollars, a sum greater than the budget of either Anti-Killer and Anti-Killer 2, and had the potential to be as wildly successful as the two aforementioned films had been. [2] Our Masha, however, was unable to follow in the footsteps of the director’s previous successes. The film, while not a complete financial failure, made a total of $626,459 during its box office run in Russia.  By comparison, the third Anti-Killer film, released one week before Our Masha and directed not by Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii but by El’dar Salavatov, earned nearly three times as much in Russian theaters.

mashaWork on Our Masha began in 2004 with a script by Leonid Kaganov and Aleksandr Bachilo.  In 2007, the film, then called Krakatuk, was announced as Russia’s first 3-D digitally animated film, with a scheduled release date of 25 October 2007.  The film’s ongoing problems prevented this billing from being fulfilled. The script was re-written several times and the animation was re-done, further adding to the cost of the film. Distribution of the film further delayed the release.  The film was originally intended to be a joint venture between the Russian company A-Media and UPI, but the two ended their partnership in September 2007. A-Media, a company primarily known for its television serials, such as My Beautiful nanny (Moia prekrasnaia niania), Not Born Beautiful (Ne rodis’ krasivoi), Tatyana’s Day (Tat’ianin den’) and others, decided to distribute Our Masha, its first feature-length film, itself, but the project was again put on hold by the 2008 financial crisis. The film was finally picked up for distribution by the newly-formed company “Nashe Kino” and released under its new title, Nasha Masha i volshebnyi orekh, on 10 December 2009, over five years after work on the film first started.

mashaBy this point the film had lost much of its momentum. Other 3-D animation projects were finished during the time period, such as Georgii Gitis’s The Adventures of Alenushka and Erema. Our Masha went from “Russia’s first 3-D animated film” to “what was to have been Russia’s first 3-D animated film.” Without the novelty of being a technological breakthrough to fall back on, Our Masha had trouble finding its audience.  The animation itself is an attempt at something bold and experimental, but the delays in the release make the film look dated, particularly when compared to the latest Pixar and DreamWorks releases. The characters, such as the overtly sexualized teenager Masha, and plot, which contains the dramatic sacrificial deaths of several of the main characters, are perhaps too mature for children, yet at the same time too simplistic for adults to enjoy fully.

Erin Alpert
University of Pittsburgh

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1] Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii’s own father, director Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii, is currently working on his own adaptation of The Nutcracker, scheduled for release in 2010. The elder Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii’s version combines live-action and computer animation, stars famous American and European actors, features new lyrics written by Tim Rice set to Tchaikovsky’s music from the ballet The Nutcracker, and has a budget of sixty-five million dollars.

2Anti-Killer was the top-grossing Russian film of 2002 and Anti-Killer 2 made an unprecedented $1,280,000 in its opening weekend alone.

Works Cited

Hlavacek, Laura Pontieri. “The Nutcracker.” KinoKultura July 2005.

Krakatuk na podkhode,” Kinoafisha 31 August 2007.

Our Masha (Russia, 2009)
Color, 72 min.
Director: Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii
Director of Animation: Roman Starikov
Script: Leonid Kaganov, Aleksandr Bachilo, Igor’ Tkachenko
Composers: Mark Erman,  Maksim Fadeev, Nikolai Krupatin
Producers: Aleksandr Akopov, Galina Epishkina, Igor’ Zakharov, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Leonard Blavatnik, Nataliia Shneiderova
Cast: Anna Snatkina, Seva Polishuk, Timur Rodrigez, Anton Pampushnyi, Vladimir Zaitsev
Production: A-Media, A-Media Gala Fil’m

Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii: Our Masha (Nasha Masha i volshebnyi oreshek, 2009)

reviewed by Erin Alpert © 2010

Updated: 11 Jul 10