Soviet Animations: The Mystery of the Third Planet, The Golden Antelope & Brothers Liu

I. The Mystery of the Third Planet [1981]★★★★

Based on a book Alice’s Travel by Kir Bulychev, The Mystery of the Third Planet was directed by Roman Kachanov and tells of the interplanetary travel of one spacecraft on board of which there are: a ten year-old girl Alice, her father biologist Professor Seleznev and their friend mechanic-pilot Captain Green. Their goal is to collect some rare animals from other planets to take them back to Earth, but they become unwittingly entangled in the web of machinations perpetuated by one evil person who randomly kills off rare birds-chatterboxes on other planets. At the heart of this mystery is also the disappearance of two legendary Captains, Kim and Buran.

The trio of adventurers in this story seem to complement each other perfectly: young and carefree Alice can be said to represent optimism, hope and “the future”; her father Professor stands for objectivity and neutrality, as well as “the present”; and the mechanic Green is the very definition of pessimism, and, arguably, “the past” (i.e. he is the most cautious person from the trio of friends and undoubtedly learnt that cautiousness from past mistakes). In their journey to collect rare animals and solve the mystery of the Captains, our heroes also tour the “Two Captains” planet and save a colony of robots from “an epidemic”. Humour and wit abound in this animation that has plenty of eccentric characters, the most memorable of whom is probably Gromozeka, whose forms were allegedly inspired by a tin can. French animation Fantastic Planet (1973) and Yellow Submarine (1968) may have provided a starting point or some influence on the Russian animators too, who came up with some vivid lifeforms existing on other planets. Thus, apart from birds-chatterboxes, that constantly repeat what they have heard before, we are also introduced to invisible fish, flying cows, flowers-mirrors and entities that take the form of the very last thing they “saw”. In sum, there is an Alice in Wonderland wonder permeating this film, and the memorable soundtrack only enhances the viewing experience.

Alice is enchanted by flowers-mirrors

Roman Kachanov was considered one of the very best Soviet animators and is also known for such work as Cheburashka (1971) and The Mitten (1967). There is a reason why 48-minute long The Mystery of the Third Planet has gathered such a huge cult following in Russia. Even if some aspects of the drawings could have been better, the animation is still an exciting inter-planetary adventure with an intelligent script, and plenty of funny moments and witty one-liners that virtually every Russian person now knows by heart or has heard at some point.

II. The Golden Antelope [1954] – ★★★1/2

Based on Indian folklore, this 35-minute long animation talks of a boy who befriends a special antelope capable of striking gold coins by her hoofs – the Golden Antelope. She is so special that one greedy rajah wants to capture her at any cost so that she can produce for him mountains of gold. The rajah decides to use the boy to get close to the antelope.

This beautiful animation was directed by Lev Atamanov, known for such animations The Snow Queen (1958) and The Yellow Stork (1950). The Golden Antelope also has some notable similarities with another well-known Soviet winter animation – The Silver Hoof, based on Siberian folklore. That story talks of a special Silver Deer that is capable of producing gemstones under its hoofs.

Colourful and fluid, The Golden Antelope may be one of the most eye-catching Soviet cartoon creations with wonderful music. Its central message of respecting nature, treating everyone kindly and shunning greed (recalling Alexander Pushkin’s fairy-tale The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish) all hit powerfully home.

III. Brothers Liu [1953] ★★★

This 30-minute animation adapts an old Chinese fairy-tale The Ten Brothers. Director Dmitriy Babichenko (1901 – 1991) directs this hand-drawn story which tells of three identical-looking brothers: one brother has an ability to control fire, another – an ability “to drink up” lakes, rivers and oceans (and fill them back in again), and the third – the ability to talk to animals and birds of all kinds. The three brothers are putting their gifts to good use by trying to help others in trouble, such as one old man who lost his coin in the sea and some birds who get in trouble as woodsmen are set to cut down their tree. However, the brothers may have met their match by encountering one ruthless mandarin.

The story is not altogether linear, but the animation seems well-made and has important lessons to impart: friendship and kindness will always triumph over avarice, evil and oppression. There is some irony to be found in the story too, especially when the old man insists that he wants his one bronze coin that he lost at sea and not a hundred gold ones that fish so painstakingly gathered for him from the sea-floor. Brothers Liu‘s music is lovely and the underwater scenery is memorable.

Brothers Liu seems that kind of an animation that was made with love, and its messages do come through: one must always remember that his or her actions may have immense consequences for others and one must always be considerate and show empathy. The importance of helping others is another theme. By sharing their talents and skills, people may achieve great results and be, indeed, unstoppable.


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