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

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

My Mum is an Airplane

BR My Mum is an AirplaneThis is a fantastic, beautifully illustrated story by the Russian animator Yulya Aronova. There’s a little bit of narration (in Russian with English subtitles) at the beginning, but it’s not too much to read out loud, or can be understood perfectly without the words. It starts out describing an enjoyable diversity of kinds of mums (musicians, carpenters, circus performers, etc.), before getting to the airplane mum (and her little child), and the rest of the film is the airplane mum’s adventures delivering mail. There’s one potentially scary airplane in here, and a storm, but any tension is short-lived, and everything turns out ok. We all love this!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 7 minutes
Available for free on Vimeo

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends

BR World of Peter RabbitThis is a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. Each begins with a short live action vignette of Beatrix Potter at her home, followed by the story itself. Each episode sticks closely to the original, both in illustrations and in wording, though some episodes intertwine two books. Anytime I’ve noticed a detail that is not in the published version of books, it turns out to be something from an earlier, unpublished version. The music is well-composed (by Colin Towns) and well-performed.

So far M. has watched three of the episodes, many times each. We have not grown tired of any of them, and we’ve enjoyed watching the creative play that has grown out of M.’s engagement with the characters. I’ve included The Tailor of Gloucester episode as a separate entry on this blog, since it’s great as a Christmas movie.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes per episode

The Tailor of Gloucester (from The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends)

BR Tailor of GloucesterThis is one episode from a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. The whole series is reviewed here, but I’ve included this one as a separate entry because it takes place at Christmas time, and makes a great Christmas or winter movie. There are a few parts of this that are not in the published version of the book, but it turns out they were in an earlier unpublished version. I love all the meticulous research into the folksongs sung at the various animals’ Christmas parties (all mentioned in the unpublished version).

M. has watched this about 50 times in the past 3 months, and has developed a fascination with yellow taffeta and red silk twist thread, and is spending all his time drawing “waistcoats for mice!” We still enjoy it too.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes
Available free on Youtube

Katie Morag

BR Katie MoragMost of our favourite TV shows are from the 70s but here, finally, is a current show that I can wholeheartedly recommend! If you are Scottish, you probably already know Katie Morag from the series of books of the same name by Scottish author Mairi Hedderwick. For those of you who are not yet familiar with Katie Morag, I’d say she falls into the same general category of kind-hearted, adventure-loving, small-town-dwelling, red-headed heroine as Anne of Green Gables, though the stories are geared towards a slightly younger audience. Katie lives on the fictional island of Struay (based in part on the real life island of Coll, and filmed on the Isle of Lewis) with her baby sister Flora Ann, toddler brother Liam, and parents. Her two grannies, Grannie Island and Grannie Mainland, with their differing values and areas of knowledge, also figure prominently in the stories.

The stories are sweet, gentle and humorous, and the acting is good. The enjoyable soundtrack is by Scottish traditional musician Donald Shaw (a founding member of the band Capercaillie). And there are a number of small details that pleased me – making presents by hand, scenes which include the baby breastfeeding, music-making etc. This series is probably intended for children more in the 5 to 8 year old range, but so far everything we have seen has been fine for a 3 year old too, and M. has really enjoyed it.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes per episode
Some episodes available free on the CBeebies website

Lights for Gita

BR Lights for GitaI’ve been looking for films about non-Christmas winter holidays, and this is the first I’ve found that I’ve wanted to show Milo. Based on a book by Indian-Canadian author Rachna Gilmore, this film tells the story of a young girl, Gita, who has recently moved from India to Canada. She is looking forward to celebrating Diwali with her new friends from school, and is disappointed when a snowstorm means that her dad won’t be able to set off fireworks, and her friends can’t get to her house. Gita, her family, and one friend who lives near by, figure out a way to celebrate and light up the darkness in her new wintery home.

I don’t love the animation or illustrations (I prefer the book illustrations), but they are fine. The score is by Normand Roger, whose work I always enjoy. Milo loved it, and wanted to watch several times in a row.

Age: 3+
Adult rating: 8/10
Child Rating: 9/10
Running time: 8 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

The Lion and the Mouse

BR The Lion and the MouseThis is a beautiful and sweet animated version of Aesop’s fable “The Lion and the Mouse,” by Canadian animator Evelyn Lambart (1914-1999). Lambart was initially best known for her collaborations with Norman MacLaren, but later in life developed her own unique and visually arresting style of animation using brightly coloured paper cutouts against a black background, which looks a bit like Russian folk painting. There is no verbal dialogue, but the soundtrack by Maurice Blackburn tells the story in a conversational, semi-improvisatory style. Some children might find the lion a little bit scary, but nothing bad happens, and the mouse and the lion become friends at the end.

(Do be careful if you decided to go on from here to “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” It starts out very gently, but the country mouse takes a gun when he goes to the city. M. doesn’t yet know about guns, so we stopped the video when we got to that point!)

Age: 3+
Adult rating: 9/10
Child Rating: 9/10
Running time: 4 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

The Old Mill

Old Mill

We’re trying to keep Disney characters out of the house for as long as possible, but we were curious to see this short, non-character-driven Disney film from the 1930’s. The Old Mill tells the simple story of some animals hiding out from a storm in an old mill. Some kids might find the storm a bit scary – the mill is almost blown apart – but the animals do all survive. It could actually be helpful for young children to watch this in preparation for a big storm, or as a way of processing it afterwards. Although Disney-style animation has never been my favourite, I do find these earlier, hand-drawn films much livelier and more appealing than the more recent films.

Age: 3+
Adult rating: 8/10
Child rating: 8/10
Running time: 8 minutes
Available free on Youtube