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

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.

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“Luca” Review: Endearing, but also Generic & Plotless

Luca [2021] – ★★1/2

Disney-Pixar’s Luca is an Italian Riviera-set animation that tells a story of a merman Luca and his family living underwater and having a hostile relationship with people living on land. Luca is a boy curious about the outside world, though, and soon becomes very interested in the “land” people. He meets a fellow merman, an “expert” in people, Alberto, and together they venture to discover “the unknown” or the “land” things, already having a goal in mind – to get their hands on an Italian scooter Vespa. The duo soon encounters a local bully, Ercole, and an eccentric tomboy, Giulia, as well as try to win a local race. Luca is gentle and sweet, who can deny this? It also has its share of laugh-out-loud sequences and beautiful images of a small picturesque village. Apart from that, the animation is painfully generic and even forgettable. Its narrative is almost too insignificant, and if it were not for all the wonderful visuals and the Pixar/Disney name behind this cartoon, Luca would have qualified perfectly to be just yet another daytime television animation geared towards very young children.

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“Chico & Rita” Review: Uneven, but Potent & Memorable

Chico & Rita [2010] – ★★★1/2

A heart-breaking love story that takes the audience from the slums of Cuba and transports them to the glitter of New York.

Before La La Land (2016), there was Chico & Rita, an adult Spanish animation which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the prestigious Spanish Goya Award for best animation. It tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Chico and Rita, who meet and quickly fall in love in Havana, Cuba, and whose turbulent professional journeys make their love a real torment. Chico is a talented pianist with high ambitions, and Rita is a stunning beauty with a voice of an angel and a desire “to make it big”. Pursuing the dreams of fame, both do not even realise how far from each other their destinies could take them. Even if crudely-drawn and sometimes frustrating to watch, Chico & Rita is still a charming story worth watching. Paying tribute to Afro-Cuban jazz and imbued with the nostalgia for the past, this animation is as much about trials of love as it is about the passion for music.

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Soviet “Fairy Tale” Animations: The Scarlet Flower, The Little Humpbacked Horse & Thumbelina

I. The Scarlet Flower [1952] ★★★★1/2

This animation is based on a story of 1858 by Sergei Aksakov who, in turn, re-worked the tale of Beauty and the Beast . In The Scarlet Flower, three daughters of one wealthy merchant request from their father overseas presents. The eldest daughter wants a diamond tiara, the middle daughter – a mirror that only shows the beauty of a person looking in it, and the youngest, Nastenka, says that she wants the Scarlet Flower. The father gets the presents for his two daughters in his travels, and the present for Nastenka he picks in the surroundings of one strange, enchanted castle. The hidden master of the castle is so angry at the father for taking the Scarlet Flower that he demands that the father sends one of his daughters to him.

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“Soul” Review: Fun & Touching, even if a tad Random

Soul [2020] – ★★★★1/2

🎹 A hectic, but wonderful celebration of life, and a moving animated ode to New York City’s jazz scene.

This new animation comes from the creators of Inside Out (2015), and is about a music teacher and aspiring jazz pianist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who dies by falling into New York City’s manhole. He begins his journey in the world “beyond” (“The Great Before”) and his reluctant companion becomes a yet-unborn soul called “22”. As it turns out, the two have much to teach each other about life, death and human destiny. Soul is best when it is rooted in simplicity, heart-warmness and quiet moments. It certainly loses some of its coherence and has many undercooked ideas, as well as mixed messages, when it tries to present the world of “The Great Before”. Nevertheless, the overall effect is that of one lovely animation, with one lovable character at its centre, which portrays New York City and the jazz scene beautifully. Soul has many redeeming elements, and those messages in the story that finally do get through effectively to the audience make it a wonderful cinematic experience overall.

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“Tekkonkinkreet” (“Treasure Town”) Review: Wondrous & Hard-Hitting

Tekkonkinkreet [2006] – ★★★★1/2

🛒Grim realism collides with childhood innocence in a striking, kaleidoscopic artwork.

Based on a manga Tekkon kinkurito (1993) by Taiyo Matsumoto, Treasure Town is a well-made animation about two orphaned boys: street-wise and brave Kuro (Black), and lovable and innocent Shiro (White). Street-raised “Yin and Yang” of the cruel world around them, the boys defend their only home – the “lost city”, the “city of myth”, the Treasure Town. At first, their opponents are simply rival gangs, but they soon notice the encroachment of a much more powerful enemy: members of the Japanese yakuza. These people have certain drastic, commercial designs on the city, and the duo of brothers feel that they cannot just give away their decrepit town full of wonder, their small, bizarre universe, their home. This colourful, sometimes violent, but grimly-realistic, animation packs inside much commentary on a variety of social issues relevant to Japan, and has both, a touching emotional core (the brotherly love) and a clever structure and plot.

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Soviet “Winter” Animations: The Snow Maiden, The Twelve Months & The Snow Queen

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and I would like to wish all my readers and followers a very Happy New Year! It is that time of the year when one would like to come home, make a hot cocoa, switch on the TV and cosily tuck themselves under a duvet. Then, what better way to spend winter holidays than by watching some wonderful winter-themed animations? Below are three classic Russian-language animations from the Soyuzmultfilm Studio.

I. Snegurochka (The Snow-Maiden) [1952] ★★★★1/2

Drawn from the Russian folklore and based on the opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (previously also based on the play (1873) by Alexander Ostrovsky), this is the tale of Snegurochka or the Snow-Maiden, the daughter of Spring Beauty and Grandfather Frost. The Snow-Maiden, who has to shun direct sunshine because her natural abode is winter and frost, decides that she wants to spend some time in the company of humans, and is adopted by Bobyl-Bakula and his wife. What follows is the Snow Maiden’s life in a rural village among people there, and one can glimpse from that Russian traditions as the tale of one stunning beauty unsettling the whole village unfolds. The Snow-Maiden meets Lel, a youth with a talent for music, and is wooed to marriage by a reckless man Mizgir, previously a fiancé of a local girl Kupava. The animation stands out because of its beauty and music (magnificent vocals). Most elements of this animation-opera are exquisitely drawn, especially the background. The story is sad, but also rather moving as it tells of the Snow-Maiden’s desire to experience/feel love at whatever cost.

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Classic French Animations: Fantastic Planet, and The King & The Mockingbird

La Planete Sauvage Poster I. Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage) [1973] – ★★★★1/2

Once in awhile comes one animation which is so powerful in its message and so unusual in its presentation, it becomes quite unforgettable. Fantastic Planet is precisely such adult-themed animation, co-produced between France and Czechoslovakia. A winner of the Cannes Special Prize in 1973, this French-language animation has even been named one of the greatest (Rolling Stone). In its presentation, Fantastic Planet is highly imaginative, inspired by some psychedelic art and, as some commentators put it, by “cut-outs from Soviet science magazines” (CinePassion). Based on Stefan Wul’s 1957 science-fiction novel, Oms en série, the animation is about blue-skinned giants, the Draags, who keep as pets a human race of Oms on the planet Ygam. The animation may be a tad too disturbing in its content, but, because the world it creates is so fascinatingly strange, and because its concept of the fight to have freedom is so relatable, it is well worth all the attention and praise.

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The Winter in July Blogathon: The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone PosterThe Sword in the Stone [1963] – ★★★

My second post for Debbie’s Winter in July Blogathon is on Disney’s animation The Sword in the Stone (1963), and, like my previous post, take note of spoilers! Once again I would like to extend my thanks to Debbie for hosting such an amazing blogathon, and also check out other great entries here. The Sword in the Stone is an animation based on a book (1938) by T.H. White, and has a distinction to be the last one produced under Walt Disney himself. In She Sword in the Stone, we have merry old England and an innocent enough plot. Wart (aka Arthur) is a young helper to an aspiring knight Kay, before Merlin, a great wizard, comes into the scene and spots Arthur as having great potential and future. After Merlin and Arthur’s initial encounter, Merlin takes the young boy under his wing and teaches him by experience the power of love, knowledge and bravery The snowy scenes come very late into this film, when it is Christmas and the knights’ tournament is held in London. Sir Kay participates, with Arthur being his squire. The tournament takes place near the place where the legendary sword in the stone stands. The legend has it that whoever draws the sword from the stone is the true heir to the English throne. When Sir Kay’s own sword goes missing, young Arthur has no choice, but to consider taking the sword residing in the stone. 

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The Winter in July Blogathon: Frozen (2013)

The Winter in July BlogathonThere is nothing like snowy and wintery films to cool us all down in the middle of this summer, and Debbie at Moon in Gemini hosts The Winter in July Blogathon for this very purpose. For this fun blogathon, I chose to write on animated films Frozen (2013) and The Sword in the Stone (1963). While Frozen is, essentially, the winter animation, there is also some winter scenery at the very end of The Sword in the Stone. These are both Disney-productions, with some fifty years separating the two, but one is computer-generated, while the other one is hand-drawn. My arguments will be that there are good enough animations, but they both fell short of their desired mark. While Frozen has great visuals, some music and concepts, the animation’s plot and characters can be criticised. Equally, while The Sword in the Stone relies on a fascinating legend and is entertaining, its visuals sometimes leave much to be desired and its episodic plot is uninspiring. My first post will be about Frozen, and because I critique it in depth, I am also warning about spoilers!

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“Millennium Actress” Review: Transcendental & Beautiful


Millennium Actress [2001]★★★★1/2

A cinematic journey to stardom and to finding answers as to identity, history and inexplicability of love, while “playing” with time and fusing reality and make-believe.

All the world’s a stage, [and] all the men and women [are] merely players”, famously stated William Shakespeare. It appears that this quote is given life in the animation Millennium Actress. This anime comes from no other than Satoshi Kon, director known for such great animated works as Perfect Blue (1998), Tokyo Godfathers (2003) and Paprika (2006). In this story, a team of documentary-makers interview a once top-star Chiyoko Fujiwara as she tells them about her story, her rise to fame and the personal motivations behind her role-taking. Together with the duo of documentary-makers, we explore Chiyoko’s life through a series of events that hint at both make-believe film scenarios and real stories, but which had a very meaningful impact on Chiyoko and her worldview. The historical settings are either Kyoto in the Edo period, Japan in the World War II, or the country-life in the 1950s, etc. As in other Kon’s films, reality and fantasy fuse deliciously in Millennium Actress. The result is that this beautiful animation becomes an engrossing celebrity story, a touching romantic ballad, a historical account of a country through the ages, as well as a thought-provoking philosophical study all in one.

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“Big Fish & Begonia” Review: Other-Worldly & Beautiful, even if a tad Confusing

Big Fish & Begonia PosterBig Fish & Begonia [2016] – ★★★★1/2

Fish on Samsung One UI 4.0 January 2022Often perplexing, but still uncanny, almost mystical and visually-stunning cinematic experience.

This fantastical tale is about Chun, a girl who is a member of a tribe of mythical beings (“neither humans nor gods, but others”) living underwater, capable of controlling tides and knowing the secrets of nature. As part of her rite of passage, Chun turns into a dolphin to visit the human world. There, Chun makes a contact with a boy who loses his life “because of her”, and Chun vows to sacrifice a part of her life for him, seeking help to turn the boy into a fish which must grow big enough for his later transformation. The story sounds a bit complex; it requires certain open-mindedness; and the layering is quite deep. However, with the stunning visuals (better seen on the widest screen possible), the simplicity of the main theme is quite evident and heart-warming. The meticulously-constructed scenery, and the relatable themes of the cycle of life, and the importance of friendship and of not losing hope, all make this animation more than worth one’s time.

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“Coco” Review: Engrossing, Mesmerising & Heart-felt


Coco [2017] – ★★★★★

A fun, twisty tribute to the Mexican folklore, showcasing touching love for music and one’s family.

Coco is a delightful Pixar-produced Academy Awards nominee of 2018. Taking the Mexican folklore and tradition on board, it tells the story of Miguel, a boy living with his family of zapateros or shoemakers in Santa Cecilia, Mexico. Years before, the family imposed an absolute ban on music, because a father of some previous generation left his family to pursue a music career. However, in this present time, Miguel, unbeknown to his family, dreams of becoming a musician, practices music secretly and worships his music idol Ernesto de la Cruz. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel desires to enter a local music completion to fulfil his dream of becoming a musician, but, trying to do so finds him in the secret Land of the Dead, where his adventures only begin.  

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“Tokyo Godfathers” Review: Socially Astute & Uplifting

Tokyo Godfathers [2003]- ★★★★1/2main-qimg-addc775327077c1483eb320cebc19f81-c

👶 A fun and heart-warming Christmas tale about homeless “misfits” that sheds light on many of Japan’s social problems, including alcoholism, poverty and discrimination. 

The co-director and scriptwriter of this little gem is no other than Satoshi Kon, the man who brought to the masses such great animated films as Perfect Blue (1997) and Paprika (2006). The story is about three homeless people who discover an abandoned baby-girl amidst the piles of garbage, and decide to embark on an adventure to deliver her back to her parents. The animation may portray harsh realities of living on the streets too realistically for anyone’s taste and may also “camouflage” some other hardships, but the animation is also fun, well-structured and beautifully-presented, with a touching finale. Moreover, it is so heart-warming, with memorable characters who learn their lessons, it is truly the New Year film to watch to lift everyone’s spirits.

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“Miss Hokusai” Review: Idiosyncratic, Poetic & Inspiring

MISS_HOKUSAI_teaser_A4_oldpaper_1600Miss Hokusai [2015] – ★★★1/2

🎨A gentle anime-biography, unveiling the character of Katsushika Ōi and the mysteries of art-making.

Based on a manga series by Hinako Sugiura, Miss Hokusai is a Japanese animation about the daughter of the famous real-life Japanese painter Hokusai. Her name was Katsushika Ōi. A great artist herself, Ōi helped her father in painting, while leading a peculiar lifestyle of her own due to her work demands and her father’s eccentricities. The beautifully-drawn animation highlights some of the most memorable instances from Katsushika Ōi’s life. It becomes impressive in a way it manages to show both Ōi’s life in Edo (now Tokyo) in the 1810s, including her hopes and traumas (as told through the manga series), as well as inspiration behind Hokusai’s major artistic accomplishments, all the while remaining strangely poetic and touching.

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Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea (2002)

MV5BNDM0YzFiMzItZDMxOC00YjIyLThiNTktZWU1MGYwMmRhNWY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU3ODUxMTc@._V1_UY1200_CR125,0,630,1200_AL_The Ballad of the Salt Sea [2002] – ★★★

He’s dreaming with his eyes open, and those that dream with their eyes open are dangerous, for they do not know when their dreams come to an end” (Hugo Pratt, taking inspiration from the famous quote by T.E. Lawrence).

“When I want to relax, I read an essay by Engels. When I want something more serious to read, I read Corto Maltese” (Umberto Eco).

La Ballade de la mer salée or The Ballad of the Salt Sea is a French-language TV animation based on the Italian comics of the adventures of Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt. Corto Maltese is a mysterious and freedom-loving adventurer and sailor who travels the world in search of excitement and fortune, usually finding himself in the early twentieth century in such places as Southern Europe, Arabia, Africa and Russia. In The Ballad of the Salt Sea, Corto is found sailing in the Pacific Ocean, and is in the midst of a shady deal with Rasputin, a psychopathic pirate and a Siberian army escapee, and with a man simply called the Monk, while the World War I is about to officially begin and the ocean is full of military ships.

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“The Red Turtle” Review: Simple, Yet Profound

The_Red_TurtleThe Red Turtle [2016] – ★★★★1/2

Turtle on Apple iOS 15.4

A simple story of survival morphs into a poetic, symbolism-driven tale of the man’s connection with nature and the meaning of life.

The Red Turtle is this year’s best animation Oscar nominee that surprised people in a way it masterfully combined visual simplicity and metaphoric depth. The film borrows the theme of Robinson Crusoe to tell the story of a shipwrecked man who experiences both desperation, sorrow and then, eventually, happiness on an isolated island. The director of this gem is Dutch Michaël Dudok de Wit who partnered with the Japanese Studio Ghibli to produce a wordless, but very meaningful animation which explores the theme of a man’s survival on an island, but also tackles bigger topics of a man’s place in the universe and his relationship with nature. Given the film’s visual simplicity, it is astounding how much there is to experience here for the viewer. Even if the content of this animation may be described as “thin”, the underling symbolism of the animation guarantees that the audience engages in emotive reflection.

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“Wolf Children” Review: Heart-Warming & Relatable

Shorewood Blu-ray OcardWolf Children [2012] – ★★★★

Wolf on Twitter Twemoji 14.0A touching, beautifully-presented story that makes a stance against discrimination, encouraging learning to live with one’s differences.

Wolf Children is a 2012 animation directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the man behind very creative The Girl Who Leapt through Time (2006) and equally inventive The Boy and the Beast (2015). This film is about a young girl Hana who meets a wolf-man and has two adorable wolf-children. After the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Hana has to confront the challenging reality of bringing up two very unconventional children. Although Wolf Children may put off those who are after a conventional story with villains, the animation is still worth watching for its meticulously-crafted visuals and the innocence and charm of its plot, filled with important life lessons and the message against discrimination.

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Studio Ghibli: “Only Yesterday” & “Kiki’s Delivery Service”

I. Only Yesterday [1991] ★★★★1/2

“What “drives” animation is the will of the characters” (Hayao Miyazaki).

Only Yesterday has a plot filled with highly emotional undercurrents and intelligence: a 27-year old unmarried woman, Taeko from Tokyo, visits countryside while reminiscing over her childhood of when she was a shy and creative fifth grader. Through her nostalgia, we discover many situations which have had the biggest impact on her up until her present point in life, and get to understand her past choices, hopes and regrets. Directed by Isao Takahata (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) and Grave of the Fireflies (1988)), Only Yesterday is a beautiful, bitter-sweet animation which touches upon such often overlooked in films/animations topics as the “grip” of persistent childhood memories and their traumatic or positive impact on one’s later life and development, the benefit of re-discovering oneself in a different setting, the importance of staying true to oneself no matter the circumstances, and the imperative of letting go and forgiving “one’s former self” to be able to carry on and lead a happy life. 

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Makoto Shinkai: Your Name & 5 Centimetres per Second


Your Name [2016] – ★★★★★

📆 An emotionally intense, unforgettable viewing experience, filled with “coming-of-age” fun and spiritual longings.

Makoto Shinkai’s latest animation feature Your Name is rapidly gaining international recognition, and has already grossed over 10 billion yen ($98 million), becoming the first ever anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki to gross this sum at the Japanese box office. This critical acclaim is unsurprising. Your Name is as close to perfection as any anime can get. Showcasing Shinkai’s talent for presenting emotional connections, fully-fledged characters and breathtakingly beautiful, detailed animation, Your Name is a romantic story of an accidental body-swap between a country girl Mitsuha and a city boy Taki, who, in reality, have never met. Both are high-school students who experience the usual teenagers’ problems and daily ups and downs. However, one day they start to switch bodies back and forth between each other through dreams. Through this experience, Mitsuha and Taki learn many interesting things about themselves, the opposite sex and human, emotional connections.

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