Monday, June 1, 2009

Soviet: Welcome! (1986, Alexei Karaev)

Welcome! (1986)
Soviet Union, 10 min
Directed by: Alexei Karaev
Written by: Dr. Seuss (book), Yuriy Koval (writer)
Starring: Anatoli Barantsev, Aleksei Borzunov, Lyudmila Gnilova, Evgeni Leonov, Klara Rumyanova (voice)

Dobro pozhalovat / Welcome! (1986) is an (unauthorised) adaptation of Dr. Seuss' 1948 story "Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose." This ten-minute animated short film features stunning paint-on-glass animation, and, not surprisingly, involved the talents of the two Soviet animators best known for the technique – Alexei Karaev {The Lodgers of an Old House (1987)} as director, and future Oscar-winner Aleksandr Petrov {The Old Man and the Sea (1999)} as art director. The latter would make his co- directing debut two years later with the Mickey Mouse tribute Marafon (1988), and his solo debut the following year with the Oscar-nominated Korova (1989). The paint-on-glass films with which Petrov made his name utilised an animation style that might be described as romantic realism. Welcome! takes inspiration from its source material, developing the inherent zaniness of Dr. Seuss' tale to produce character animation that is slightly goofy; the moose, for example, has a long, thin legs and a head slightly too big for his body, with large, sad eyes that accentuate his emotions.

In the film, a kind-hearted moose on the prowl for vegetation is talked into allowing an insect to hitchhike on his antlers. The bug invites a spider to share the ride with him. A wood-pecker soon joins them. Having already opened up his antlers to one free-loader, the poor moose can't bring himself to refuse any additional requests, and soon he's carting about an menagerie. When, in his search for more food, the moose decides to cross a lake, his passengers choose to exercise their democratic rights, claiming that they should have a say as to the movements of their new "home." Thus, the moose loses his autonomy. I don't want to overstate the political undertones of a children's work, but Theodor Seuss Geisel (penname "Dr. Seuss") was, in his early cartoon career, a passionate opponent of Hitler's fascist regime, and this story suggests to me how dictatorship can arise through seemingly democratic means, and without citizens realising until it's too late. Perhaps Alexei Karaev was consciously reapplying these themes to the history of the Soviet Union.

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