Friday, January 9, 2009

Soviet: The Marathon (1988, Aleksandr Petrov, Michael Tumelya)

The Marathon (1988)
Soviet Union, 2 min
Directed by: Aleksandr Petrov, Mikhail Tumelya

After several years working as art director on such films as Alexei Karaev’s Welcome (1986), Aleksandr Petrov’s first film as director was The Marathon (1988), which he co-directed with Michael Tumelya. This brief tribute to Walt Disney’s immortal creation Mickey Mouse possesses none of the breathtaking visuals for which Petrov would later become known, but it is nonetheless a powerful piece of work, even at just two minutes in length. The film was produced to celebrate the character’s 60th anniversary, and that Roy E. Disney and a group of American animators paid a visit to the USSR in 1988 probably gave some added incentive. By all reports, Disney was thrilled with the effort. While it was Korova (1989) – Petrov’s diploma work – that really established Petrov as an imminent animation genius (he received the first of his Oscar nominations), this earlier student short, by its potent simplicity, is well worth tracking down for all fans of the director.

The film opens in 1928, with a young child looking at a reflection of himself in the mirror, which is actually a cinema screen. Along comes the guiding hand of Walt Disney, who transforms the child’s reflected image into none other than Mickey Mouse. Having found an immortal friend in this big-eared critter, the child and Mickey begin dancing joyously opposite each other. As the film progresses, the baby becomes a boy, the boy becomes a young man, the young man becomes an adult, and the adult has finally become an old man. Mickey Mouse, unchanged and still bringing joy to this old man’s heart, continues with his enthusiastic dancing. By the end of the film, the man is frail and near death, but a grandchild wringing at his arm becomes equally enthralled by the image of Mickey cavorting across the television screen. Walt Disney may be dead, and Mickey’s original fans may be getting on in years, but this big-eared rodent will always be around to bring delight to the hearts of millions.

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