When it comes to digital animation, some of the lesser known studios, including foreign studios, are putting out some incredible moves. One such film is The Stolen Princess. This is a film from the Ukraine which proves that some central themes, such as love conquers all and good always triumphs over evil, are timeless and universal. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of daily life, we forget.
In a style not unlike that of Disney animation, this film features a hero whose very hero-ness could not have been more perfectly planned. There was no other character in this film who could have been more perfect for this role. Who but someone who starred in a play about the very villain who then kidnaps the love of his life, would have been more perfect to rescue her?
Ruslan is an actor, who longs to change his station in life and become a knight instead. But the customs of the time do not allow him to do this. So he dutifully performs in a play about the evil wizard Chornomor, who kidnaps a princess who has just fallen in love. This evil magician then uses her love to fuel his magical powers for another hundred years, meanwhile turning the princess herself into a stone statue. Several of these statues can be seen scattered about the wizard’s castle which we see later in the story, and it has been a hundred years since the last princess was kidnapped when the story begins.
The princess in this story, Lyudmyla (or Mila for short) is a headstrong, independent heroine, not unlike so many of the Disney Princesses. She runs away from the castle after being given an ultimatum by her father: she must choose a husband from one of the unappealing knights who has visited her in the castle, or he will choose one for her and force her to marry. Of course, after running away she gets into trouble with a group of thugs, as the kingdom in which she lives in not so protective of her outside of the castle when her identity is hidden.
When she runs into the hero of the story, quite literally, she is not very impressed at first. But over the course of their first night together, her attitude towards him changes. He takes her on an exciting adventure for one night, taking her on a magical ride on a ski-lift type of device, riding a boat across the water, and joining a group of people in celebration on the edge of the water. Ruslan proves time and again throughout the story that he is a truly heroic character, starting when she is snatched from him, and he pursues her over rooftops and through people’s houses to try to get her back.
There was, however, another hero in this story, two actually. One is a small blue titmouse bird named Una that the main character, Ruslan, has obviously been friends with for a very long time. She gets him out of sticky situation after sticky situation. The bird facilitates nearly every heroic moment in the story, including their encounter with the giant monster cat who finally agrees to help them, and when Ruslan is being taken to the dungeon with the king’s guards. She is a great supporting actress.
The other hero of this story was an adorable hamster. The hamster was the one who knew where everything was, and without the hamster, nothing in this story would have been possible after a certain early point. He was able to lead Ruslan to everywhere he needed to go in order to find and rescue the princess. He first knew how to make the magical bridge appear that took them to Fin, the good magician who a hundred years before had tried to rescue his own princess but failed, losing his magical powers. Fin is quite helpful, and tells Ruslan how to defeat the evil wizard.
The last supporting character, who is quite worth mentioning, is the lovable sidekick Nestor. He provides most of the funny lines in the movie, and gets himself into some hilarious predicaments, which Ruslan then has to rescue him from. He provided the initial impetus for the story, as he had ‘stolen’ the tale of Chornomor for his epic play, which Ruslan acted in, from a book he had borrowed from the magical cat who provides the key to finding the princess, and the doorway to take them to the magic land.
There are other assorted characters, mostly villains, such as the knights who want to foil Ruslan’s plan to rescue the princess so that they can be the heroes. Of course, the princess had to dispatch them as well as the monster candy. Wait, monster candy?
Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention the most hilarious scene in the movie. The evil Chornomor enchants cakes and candies to come to life, and the princess has to fight them off, with a cake knife, of all the odd weapons! The princess had already bested the villain more than any of the other kidnapped princesses had, by stealing his cap of invisibility, making herself very hard for the wizard to find. All of the funny little quips and scenes, including this one, make this movie move much more quickly, and makes it enchanting to watch.
The villain of the tale, Chornomor, is quite an odd character. A resident of the “Magic Land” into which he kidnaps princesses every hundred years, this villain is extremely ugly and has a monstrous personality to match. He also floats most of the time. His hideous personality is matched by the equally hideous way in which he steals the love from the princess in order to fuel his magical powers. He seems quite overmatched by Ruslan, and by the princess herself. It does seem that past heroes were quite unprepared for his villainous-ness, whereas Ruslan takes nothing for granted, and is able to finally defeat this evil monster.
This story was quite unpredictable. There were a lot of plot twists that were completely unexpected. Such as when the princess must defend herself against the monster candy and living cake. And when the magical cat turns into a giant monster cat, where Ruslan has to figure out how to calm him down and make him friendly again. The way in which he accomplishes this is quite hilarious and inventive. There were many comedic interludes in the film.
The first time I saw it, I realized it was quite unique in many ways. And while it does not have the custom-designed version of Autodesk Maya that was created by Microsoft specifically for Disney’s use, the animation was still quite amazing. The issues that the film itself has are common to all computer generated animation films, except those made by Disney. The character movements are a little jerky and unrealistic, especially the facial expressions as they move from one expression to another, the pans are somewhat off and don’t look real, and the eyes look a little odd (more like suns than like eyes), but overall the animation and special effects were quite incredible. They used additional special effects software to create some of the more memorable scenes, such as when Mila catches the sun with her pendant, creating a beautiful stained-glass rainbow-ray effect.
I would highly recommend this story to anyone who loves fairy tales and love stories, especially with unexpected twists and unlikely heroes. This movie has a fantastic story, with superb character development and plot twists. The story and characters are the most important pieces of any film, as this is what will captivate viewers and make a movie worth watching again and again. If the story and character development are both excellent, even shoddy animation can get a pass, as the story itself is what engrosses one emotionally. This movie has both of these things in abundance.
I would give it five stars, and recommend it for all ages, and all family members.
Cast: Daniel J Edwards, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, Jake Paque
Director: Oleh Malamuzh
Studio: FILM.UA Distribution
Suitable for All Ages
Overall Rating: Five Stars