Mavka: The Forest SongPG
With US studios like Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks, and their impressive output of animated films, it can be difficult for other studios around the world to get a look in.
But other studios were the least of this film’s problems, produced as it was in Ukraine, a country which is still suffering from a war with neighbouring Russia.
And yet despite its country’s plight, they still managed to create a film brimming with spirit.
Growing up on the other side of the dark mountain is Mavka (Laurie Hymes), who just happens to be a soul of the forest. She has special powers, to help keep the forest a sacred place.
It hasn’t been easy however, as in the past humans threatened the forest’s very existence, and it would have been destroyed too if it wasn’t for the Guardian of the forest.
Meanwhile, making her way back into a neighbouring village is Kylina (Sarah Natochenny); she has a home there, and it was her father who started the original war between humans and the forest dwellers.
She is back because there’s something in the forest that she wants, and she’ll do anything she can to get it. She offers a large sum of money to the locals, who all know better than to venture into the woods. But with his Uncle Leo very sick and needing expensive medication, young Lucas (Eddy Lee) has no other choice but to accept the job, and be the first human in many a year to venture into the forest.
Little does he know that it could be the catalyst for another war between the two sides, but maybe, when his path crosses that of Mavka, their friendship could change all their destinies.
It’s not often you get a film based on a poetic play (Lesya Ukrainka’s The Forest Song), but that’s exactly this one’s origin. As the title suggests, it’s a celebration of nature, as well as taking in broader themes such as the constant threat from mankind, and a topical sub story about the need to look youthful in society.
The world is certainly a colourful one, at times garishly so, rich with vivid greens and a rainbow of other colours. And the animation itself is quietly impressive, especially where some of the detailed backgrounds are concerned. It’s the film’s overall look and feel that certainly give it an undeniable charm.
Despite its European roots, it’s clear that Mavka is the film’s equivalent to a Disney princess: innocent to all the ills of others around her, with a big, albeit naive heart.
The story itself is undeniably trite, with clichéd references to the elements and such, but it doesn’t get in the way, and certainly won’t bother a younger audience, which it’s solidly aimed at.
Another aspect which is pleasingly Disney-esque is some interesting and unique characters, none more so than Swampy – half cat, half frog. It shouldn’t work, but turns out he’s rather adorable.
A unique claim it can hold over its bigger animating studios, is that they’re unlikely to end theirs with revealing the power of European folk music, and yes it really does have that up its sleeve.
According to one of the film’s producers, at one point animators were working out of bomb shelters, which is a position most animators thankfully never find themselves in. This makes the film’s release even more remarkable.
Although it has a few Disney elements, the film is undoubtedly European – specifically Ukrainian – and benefits greatly from it. It does of course feature an English-speaking cast dubbed over, so you won’t have to give your little un’s a crash course in Ukrainian.
The film has done well globally, selling to over 80 countries, making it the first ever Ukrainian film to do so. So much so that there’s a 12-part 3D series to follow, continuing the adventures of Mavka and co.
The fact that this Ukrainian studio managed to produce this film under such atrocious conditions is astonishing enough, but the fact that they poured their hearts, souls and their love for their country into it, more so.
In all honesty, it doesn’t quite compete with the likes of the big US studios, but it doesn’t need to. It wears its Euro roots on its sleeve, proudly, with that European fairytale flavour that youngsters will surely love.