This fairly loyal adaption is an artistic spectacle to boot.
DIRECTOR Ivan Aksenchuk
REVIEW by Natalie Belton
For those only familiar with the Disney version of Han Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, the original version is considerably more brutal and tragic (but honest). It might also be surprising for some to learn that The Little Mermaid was, in fact, adapted twice before the Disney film debuted in 1988. Both versions, the 1968 short, Rusalochka, and the 1975 anime feature, are far more loyal to Anderson's tale and bare little resemblance to Ariel's undersea frolics. However, while the later is more well known, it is also less skillfully directed and cheaply animated. The 1968 film, on the other hand, is a overlooked piece of art.
Rusalochka opens in modern day Copenhagen, Denmark. Several tourists gather around the capital's famous mermaid statue, as a tour guide explains its significance. A fish in the water below the tourists scoffs at their foolishness, and then proceeds to tell about the doomed love of the mermaid.
Upon reaching her 15th birthday, The Little Mermaid is allowed to swim up to the surface above. As soon as she does, however, the Mermaid spots a young prince caught up in a dreadful storm. She admires the man's bravery and decides to save him, declaring that, "The beautiful and the brave should not perish." After the mermaid returns to the ocean, she decides that she wants to become human. Unfortunately for her, the Prince is found on shore by another women, whom he mistakes as his rescuer.
"These stupid people! They think that love exists and mermaids don't!"
From this point on, Rusalochka's story differs greatly from Disney's The Little Mermaid. The mermaid runs away from home to meet the sea witch. The sea witch is not a malevolent character. She is just an eccentric, but wise individual. The witch warns that if the prince does not wed the mermaid, she will turn into sea foam. However, the mermaid has her mind set on love and exchanges her voice for a pair of human legs.
By the time the film reaches its climax, the mermaid must make the choice wether to not to release a storm on the prince, so that she can return to her sisters in the sea, or allow the prince to marry another. The unintentional consequences of the Mermaid's love become painfully apparent when she chooses to die rather than kill her lover, who is unaware of the whole ordeal (though he still cares for the Mermaid). But like the Prince, The Mermaid is also a flawed character. Although her bravery and perseverance are certainly admirable (She is willing to endure pain with every step she takes as a human), the Mermaid is quite naive and is easily swayed by her overwhelming emotions. The decisions that she makes aren't always smart, but the audience still feels for her when reality comes crashing down on her dreams.
Each scene utilizes a different style and color scheme to effectively convey mood.
Rusalochka's animation style is also in stark contrast to that of Disney's. This is apparent at the very start of the film, which is shot in black and white, featuring animated characters alongside real life photo stills. After the introduction, Rusalochka switches over to a more complex, design based style. Although the animation may seem a bit jerky by modern standards, it is lovingly drawn in every frame. The look of the Rusalochka is heavily based upon Medieval paintings and frescos. Its artwork is filled with elaborate patterns and textures. Rusalochka's symphonic score also helps aid each scene's emotional resonance. Although the film contains little dialogue, it does not need extra talking to convey its message. Indeed, the film is primarily a visual experience.
Quite easily one of the most beautiful animated shorts ever created, Rusalochka manages to be a unique and faithful retelling of one of the world's most famous fairytales. Because it is so different than what most Western audiences are accustomed too, I hesitate to recommend it to someone uninterested in 'art house films', but I highly suggest that everybody else should seek out this mini masterpiece.
How long did it take the animators to draw this single panel alone?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Natalie Belton is currently a college student majoring in Anthropology and Geography with a passionate interest in culture, film, and art. Outside of writing for CDR, she also maintain her own animation and movie blog, The Animatorium. For any questions, Natalie may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.