Mavka. Forest Song. Cartoon review

Finally! After 8 years of work on the film and almost 200 million hryvnias spent on the project, after ambitious statements and loud presentations, which have already become a habit in the film community, Mavka came to the big screens.

Title Мavka. Forest song
Genre animation, screen version
Director Oleksandra Ruban, Oleh Malamuzh
Starring Yuliia Sanina, Serhii Prytula, Artem Pyvovarov, Khrystyna Solovii, Olena Kravets, Mykhailo Foma, Kateryna Kukhar, Natalka Denysenko
Studio Animagrad Film.UA Group
Timing 98 minutes
Year 2023
Website IMDb
Where to watch cinemas

First there were trailers. The trailers weren’t great. The last of them, according to the overwhelming majority of the audience’s feedback, also did not demonstrate anything extraordinary, and even disappointed some: “Well, that’s not really exciting, but maybe we’ll go see it with the child.”

The situation with impressions from the trailer changed somewhat on February 24. Then the Animagrad studio released a version dedicated to the anniversary of the full-scale invasion. And it was this version that found a response in the audience, as it had the necessary emotion.

If we start the countdown from the idea, then Mavka is almost the same age as Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine. The project of the future cartoon was presented for the first time in 2015.

The plot of the cartoon Mavka. Forest song

Even if you don’t read the synopsis before watching the cartoon and you’ve never caught sight of its characters, who were walking around from time to time as part of a promotion campaign unprecedented for Ukraine, you’ll still understand that the cartoon was based on Lesya Ukrainka’s extravaganza drama Forest Song.

The fact that the Ukrainian product is based on a work of Ukrainian literature is a good move. This is not a screen adaptation of Lesya Ukrainka’s play, but its interpretation – a free (too free) retelling with the addition of storylines that are not in the original. There are many secondary characters whose main role is to complement the hero, diversify the plot and entertain with dialogues, as well as serve as an object for merch. One of these characters really lacked the catch phrase “I! AM! Groot!” – well, because it looks very similar! But, and the truth is, “why are there monkeys in Volyn?”

By the way, about Volyn and monkeys. Have you seen the mountains in Volyn? And they are in the cartoon!

The story itself and its presentation are adapted to modern animation standards, for which, with such a budget, the authors can only be applauded.

In the film, two worlds coexist: people and the forest. Well, how they co-exist… They co-exist badly, since once upon a time there was a battle between forest dwellers and humans, during which the owner of the sawmill was killed. Since that time, people are afraid of the forest, and the forest tries not to touch people.

The murdered owner of the sawmill was left with a daughter, Kylina, who, having grown up, returns to her native land, taking with her a French stylist, whose biggest fear turned out to be shapeless and really ugly pants, the appearance of which is terribly offends his delicate nature.

The stylist is a funny character and does not left you disappointed thanks to the comical situations he constantly finds himself in and the dialogues that are perfectly written (and not only for him, but also for other characters.

Kylina is “cunning like an otter, predatory like a lynx” and crazy about beauty and youth. She knows how to be forever young – because in the forest there is a Source of Life, which gives beauty and youth.

Kylina promises the villagers money if they find a Source in the forest and bring her nourishing and rejuvenating moisture.

Peasants, remembering the history of enmity with the people of the forest, refuse Kylina’s money and the risky journey to the forest.

And here is Lukash. Paraphrasing Goethe, he is “a part of that Power that, always wishing for Good, only knows how to do Evil.” Guided by good and noble intentions to cure his sick uncle, Lukash agrees to Kylina’s proposal and goes to the forest, hoping to bring her what she wants, and thereby earn money for his uncle’s medicine.

And in the forest Lukash meets Mavka.

If the dry retelling of the plot has not reminded you of anything yet, then watching the cartoon itself, somewhere in the middle you will begin to suspect something: forest people, uninvited guests who bring chaos to the paradise idyll in pursuit of the healing grail, the Source of Life… Well, then you will see a tree, exactly like the one on Pandora. And no, this does not at all indicate that the authors quoted Cameron, because in the original source, one of the actors is the Centennial Oak, which represents the unity of nature and people, but if it is a direct quote, then we will have more such examples of quoting famous films.

In the work of Lesya Ukrainka, Lukash’s flute personifies art, awakens everything good and bright around and, ultimately, is what gives rise to feelings. The film adaptation is filled with music, and not only Lukash’s flute – in one of the scenes, for example, we see and hear DakhaBrakha.

And how can we forget about the soundtrack?

“So it happened. War in the forest!”

Strong, and even powerful, characters of Ukrainian folklore are perfectly woven into the cartoon story and historical events that the country is experiencing today. The narrative of the cartoon is the struggle for freedom and the right to live on one’s land.

If we look at the war through the prism of the dichotomy of good and evil, add a little mystical thinking and turn to the beliefs of our ancestors – all earthly and heavenly forces, all elements, all nature work to the light defeated the darkness, and if for this it is necessary to turn from a cute girl into an unstoppable fury that destroys everything in its path, destroys the enemy and their weapons – then this is Ukraine today. Do not make us angry, because we have well understood what righteous anger is when they come and try to make us slaves.

Fortunately, this is the case when the long wait paid off despite all the doubts and skepticism. It was justified, both in terms of the artistic quality of the work and in terms of its timeliness, which is the most important thing.

Now you can safely release Mavka for worldwide distribution (currently it is known that the cartoon will be released in Europe, the countries of the Middle East and Africa) – there is no humble sacrifice and inferiority, it’s not a “souvenir”. Instead, there is a demonstration of strength, culture and identity.

“No, I am alive! I’ll live eternally. I have that in my heart which cannot die!”

Spring is perhaps the most mystical season in Ukraine. Mavka, who wakes up in the spring and wakes up all forest inhabitants, fittingly starts in cinemas at the beginning of spring, starting a new cinema season, returning Ukrainian movies (which, with some exceptions, studios save for better times), to the big screens and inspiring victory — good over evil and light over darkness.

unobtrusive morality; characters; dialogues; gags; emotionality; ethnic component; Ukrainian classics as a primary source
oversimplification of the plot; the characters are very different in style - as if they were collected from different, unrelated cartoons; the film is mainly aimed at a children's audience
Of course, Mavka is not Pixar, which is immediately noticeable from the visuals and style. But, I think that Pixar artists would be shocked if they found out for what a tiny, by their standards, amount of money a very decent product was shot. In addition, given the history of Ukrainian animation, it is not yet clear who should follow whom. Mavka has its shortcomings but you don't want to notice them at all, and this is also a credit to the movie.
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