Geese Swans (also called The Magic Swan Geese)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-56-53-pmThis is a nice 1949 animation by Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya and Ivan Ivanov-Vano, based on a Russian fairytale. A young boy is taken away by some evil swan geese which belong to the witch Baba Yaga, and his sister goes to rescue him. On her way, she helps, and is later helped by, an outdoor bread oven, an apple tree, and a stream of milk. M. (4) found the part at the witch’s house a bit scary, so we skipped over that (and this is why I’m rating it 5+, though some kids might be ready for it younger).

Age: 5+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 17’30”
Available: Available free here

Pick, The Little Mouse

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-19-17-pmHere’s a sweet, wordless animation by Gennady Sokolsky, which tells of a year in the life of a little field mouse, and contains lush imagery of the natural world. There are a few brief moments which some younger kids may find scary – when the mouse is chased by a boy, some sea birds, and an owl – but everything turns out ok.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 17’30”
Available: Available free on Youtube

A Little Silver Hoof

imagesI’m just discovering that there is a wealth of beautifully animated Russian fairy tales made from the 1940s through the 1970s. Many are more suitable for older kids, but here’s one I’ve found that’s suitable for preschoolers, a lovely 1977 animation by Gennady Sokolsky based on a fairy tale from the Urals. A kindly old man takes in an orphaned girl and her cat, and together they win the favour of a magical deer (or goat), which stomps its foot and bestows a rainbow of beautiful gems upon them. (Apparently the region the story comes from is famed for its plentiful gemstones). I love the pacing of this animation — more like a book than like TV. I’m used to Russian animations with lavish orchestral scores, and was a bit surprised to hear this one accompanied with 70s electronic music. The soundtrack is in Russian, but there are English subtitles. Though this isn’t a Christmas tale per se, it’s certainly good for winter holiday watching – but could be enjoyed at any time of year.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 9’30”
Available: There’s a version on Dailymotion with English subtitles

Shaun the Sheep (TV series)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-45-41-amShaun the Sheep is a stop-motion animated TV series from Aardman Animation, starring the eponymous Shaun, who first appeared as a character in the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. These 7-minute episodes are wordless and quite delightful, and mostly involve the sheep getting themselves into and out of a variety of humorous scrapes. The show is a bit more boisterous than we usually want our kids to see: it’s better as a Saturday morning show than for watching before bed. (The spin-off show Timmy Time, intended for toddlers, is even more chaotic, so we are avoiding that one entirely). On the negative side, I find the theme music a bit repetitive, and it tends to get stuck in the head.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 7 minute episodes
Available: CBBC, Google Play, and Youtube

Pingwings

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-8-06-43-pmIf you’re in the mood for penguins, but find Pingu a bit too boisterous and March of the Penguins a bit too dramatic, then Pingwings might be just what you’re looking for. It’s a sweet, gentle, and gently humorous show, which tells of the adventures of a family of hand-knit penguin-like creatures living on a farm, with mixed stop motion animation and live action. It’s one of the earlier shows by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s company Smallfilms (best known for Bagpuss and the Clangers). The original Pingwings were knit by Peter’s wife Joan. You can knit your own following this pattern from The Dragons’ Friendly Society.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 8
Adult rating: 8
Running time: 10 minute episodes
Available: a few episodes are available on Youtube, or you can order the whole series from The Dragons’ Friendly Society

Volgens de Vogels/According to the Birds

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-46-19-pmThis is a truly beautiful hand-drawn (pencil on paper) animation by Dutch artist, illustrator, and animator Linde Faas. There’s no storyline, but it portrays nature – birds flying, leaves falling, dandelion seeds blowing – in such a life-like and compelling way that I simultaneously want to go camping, want to do some drawing, and want to spend the afternoon at an art museum. The beautifully-recorded soundtrack is simply birds singing, leaves rustling, wings flapping, and other natural sounds. (I’m always so glad to find a filmmaker who doesn’t unnecessarily superimpose music when it isn’t needed.)  M. (4) and L. (16 months) were entranced too. I’m really looking forward to exploring what other films Faas has done.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10
Adult rating: 10
Running time: 5 1/2 minutes
Available: free here and elsewhere

The Wind in the Willows (1983)

br-wind-in-the-willowsThis is a very nicely done stop-motion animated version, which sticks closely to the book. We watched about half an hour of it, and then M. (4 years old) complained that it was “boring.” I tried to convince him that there’s no such thing as boring, that this was a very nice film, and that he should give it a chance. And then I burst out laughing because I realized that I had always found The Wind in the Willows (whether as a book or a movie) boring too. I include this here because it is good, and I wish we liked it – but we just do not seem to be a Wind in the Willows family. (It’s not that we’re immune to the charms of early 20th century anthropomorphic British animals – we just seem to prefer the Beatrix Potter tales!)

Age: 1+
Child rating: N/A (we’re not the right ones to judge)
Adult rating: N/A
Running time: 79 minutes
Available: there are various free versions online

Vinni Pukh (Winnie-the-Pooh)

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-8-11-19-pmThis is a fascinating Russian version of Winnie-the-Pooh, with beautiful illustrations and animation by Fyodor Khitruk and a colourful orchestral score by Mieczysław Weinberg. The characters are more animal-like, the scenery more wild, the pacing a bit slower, and the dialogue more enigmatic – interesting to adults as well as kids – than in the Disney animated version most of us are probably familiar with. Khitruk left Christopher Robin out of his telling of these tales so the animals would all be on equal footing as the central characters. There are three 10-minute episodes, available in Russian with English subtitles. I can usually get the kids to just watch without me having to read them out loud!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 10 minute per episode
Available: for free on Youtube

I Want a Dog

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-2-51-17-pmThis is another NFB adaptation of a book by Canadian/American author and illustrator Dayal Kaur Khalsa, with animation by Sheldon Cohen and music by Zander Ary, performed by Neko Case. It tells the story of young girl named May who comes up with an ingenious way to convince her parents to get her a dog. It’s a sweet story of overcoming obstacles with good-natured persistence. Though the story is really for kids age 4 or so and up, L., now 14 months, loves it too. “Doggie! Doggie! Doggie!”

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 10 minutes
Available: for free here on the NFB website

 

The Snow Cat

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-10-34-58-amThis wintery story is based on a book by Canadian/American author Dayal Kaur Khalsa, adapted by Tim Wynne-Jones and animated by Sheldon Cohen. A grandmother tells her young grand-daughter the tale of Elsie, who lives alone in a cabin near the woods, and longs for a companion. Elsie makes friends with a magical snow cat and an injured goose, and comes to find comfort and companionship in nature and the cyclical return of the seasons. This story can certainly be taken at face value, as a magical tale, but it is also about coming to terms with loss, change, and death – and indeed Khalsa wrote the book as she was coming to terms with her own diagnosis of breast cancer. (M., looking over my shoulder says “it’s sad because the cat melts,” but that it is nice when that cat returns as a cat-shaped pond.)

Age: 4+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 23 minutes
Available: for free here on the NFB website