Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Stolen Sun (Soyuzmultfilm, 1944)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles began the evening with a short he’d downloaded from archive,org, a quite charming 1944 Russian animated film called The Stolen Sun, apparently based on a children’s fable and dealing with an almost impossibly perfect pastoral setting with anthromorphized animals (looking very much like the early work of Walt Disney; the piece could have been a Silly Symphony from the 1929-32 period before Disney started using color, which was still unavailable to Soviet filmmakers). The gimmick here is that a nasty crocodile invades the sylvan glen (there’s a river running through it which allows the croc to get in) and literally swallows the sun, and the denizens of the forest have to enlist the aid of the forest’s resident bear to fight the croc, get him to spit out the sun and allow daylight to occur again. Given that this film was made during World War II, the symbolism is pretty obvious — the crocodile is the Axis in general and/or Germany in particular, the forest creatures are the rest of the Allies and the bear, of course, is Russia (never mind that Russia actually began World War II on Germany’s side and it was only when Hitler stabbed them in the back and invaded 21 months into the war that Russia switched and joined forces with the U.S. and Britain against the Nazis) — but the film is nonetheless a quite watchable and technically accomplished cartoon, as good as anything American animators were doing at the time except that there was no color. The director, Ivan Ivanov-Vano, used very little dialogue — Charles wanted to make sure the English subtitles were included in the version we were watching, but there was almost no dialogue and we probably could have figured out the film even without them — and there was almost a wall-to-wall music track of vaguely familiar classical-sounding stuff, including one piece it was especially easy to recognize: the fourth, “Storm” movement of Beethoven’s Sixth (“Pastorale”) Symphony was used to underscore the actual fight between the crocodile and the bear.