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

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

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

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-11-47-25-pmThough I had the book, I somehow never saw this animated, musical version from 1966 when I was a kid. I’ve enjoyed discovering this classic with M. The animations are bright, lively, and true to Dr. Seuss’s illustrations, and the music is good. There’s a nice anti-consumerist message, in a format that is easy to discuss with a 4 year old. M. was scared the first time through (worried that the Grinch would prevent Christmas from coming), but has since requested to watch it many times.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 22 minutes
Available: for purchase on Google Play, or, in sections, 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