Movie review: 'Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf' (2011)
Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf (Иван Царевич и Серый волк / Ivan Tsarevich i Seriy volk / trailer) is a Russian 2D animated children's film that came out in 2011. It's the 7th film produced by Melnitsa Animation Studio, and although it took 12th place that year in Russia's box office, 9 of the top 11 films were all foreign imports, so for a domestic film it did really well! It made back 8 times what it cost to produce, enough to get sequels in 2013 and 2016. I've not watched the studio's other films, but they've definitely got an in-house animation style down to something that works well for them.
A lot of foreign animation companies don't bother exporting their films into the North American market because it's expensive, although Netflix and other streaming services are rapidly changing that. Sometimes it's a case of whether foreign audiences will be able to relate to the content. Ivan Tsarevich and the Gray Wolf feels very Russian, culturally. I get the impression it's poking fun at a lot of fairy tales, and I have no idea what they are. Still, it was an ok watch.
The character named "Ivan Tsarevich" is a recurring Russian hero who turns up in several folktales. For example, Ivan (and a wolf) can be found in the story of The Firebird, although that's not what this film is based on. And in that story and in this film, the wolf is a good guy! That makes me so happy! The film also throws in common Russian antagonists Baba Yaga, Koschei, and a three-headed version of the dragon Zmei Gorynych.
The whole thing has a light comedic tone, no toilet humor, and doesn't take itself at all seriously. From the very beginning it's addressing the viewer directly and dropping a mermaid out of a tree. It takes place in the kingdom of Far Far Away, ruled by a king who's basically good but also kind of a jerk.
His scheming prime minister is in cahoots with some kind of... shadow-demon? (never explained) in a quest for power - the demon wants a key that the king wears around his neck, and the prime minister wants to marry princess Vasilisa. This is when Ivan shows up, kicked out of a neighboring kingdom. He's clever and a quick thinker, if a bit naïve. The king sends him on a quest before he can marry his daughter. She's the smartest person around, but of course it's her marital status that matters the most.
Gray, the wolf, starts out as the film's narrator and establishes the setting. He's part of the royal household, has a little house of his own, and a supply of raw steaks. He's smart and sassy! Alas, after Ivan turns up, Gray becomes more of a secondary character. He accompanies Ivan on his quest and gets a couple of moments, and they're not a bad team, but the focus is still biased towards Ivan. Later in the film, the wolf also gets more cowardly, in stark contrast to his earlier self-confident attitude, so this was a bit of a let-down. Still, I liked his personality and his voice actor.
Gray sports a gold earring in one ear, and he switches freely between being bipedal and quadrupedal. Even though his waist is cartoonishly thin in comparison to his broad chest, it works. (Which is odd, because I found the same triangular design rather distracting in the 3D film Sheep and Wolves.) Other than him, there's not much anthropomorphism in the rest of the film, aside from a talking cat and Gorynych the dragon, who was a fun character although I didn't like the design of his lower jaw(s).
Basically it's a pretty standard kid's comedy. The middle of the film dragged a bit; it felt like the quest was put in to stretch things out. Most of the jokes are pretty average, with an occasional absurd touch to events. If you're interested in watching something a little exotic, I'd say go ahead and check it out, but I wouldn't blame you if you skipped ahead. Not much in there for adults, or at least for English adults unfamiliar with Russian culture. To my surprise though, the demon's powers close to the end suddenly became much more dangerous, veering into "Crap, how do we fight this??" territory.
Where can you find this? On YouTube! Except the English closed captions are pretty bad. However, if you download the video, here's another set of subtitles for it - give it the same name as the video file but with the extension ".srt", put both files in the same folder together, and VLC should do the rest. These subtitles are... marginally better, enough to get by. (Mostly. "Threw the old man a turnip in the sea. Haul-pull, cannot get it out"?)
This concludes my series of reviews on recent Russian films of furry interest!