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Barishnikov’s Favorites

Author John Cech
Air Date 5/19/2000

Barishnikov’s Favorites Transcript

There’s a series of 13 animated films for children called “Stories from My Childhood,” that is available on video tape and DVD. The collection of films is hosted by Mikhail Baryshnikov, and it’s based on a program that’s run on a number of PBS television stations. It includes tales from the Russian tradition like “The Snow Girl,” The House on Chicken Legs,” and “Ivan and his Magic Pony,” as well as others that are familiar to us on this side of the Atlantic–“Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans.”

The films, a number of them prize-winners, were made in Russia by some of that country’s leading animators, and they’ve been translated here into English with the voices of such stars (and friends of Misha’s) as Kathleen Turner, Sarah Jessica Parker, Laura San Giacomo, Kirsten Dunst, Gregory Hines, Jim Belushi, Martin Sheen, and James Coburn. Each film has its unique style of animation–they’re not all stamped from the same mold like the Disney films tend to be–and for that reason seeing them is like having your own film festival playing in your family room. But like any collection of works from very different artists, they range in quality and appeal. There’s a cutsie version of “The Nutcracker” that doesn’t quite have enough crunch, despite Tchaikovsky’s lush music. And there’s an almost wordless version of the famous “Baba Yaga” story with a sound track from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” played by Sviatoslav Richter that sounds just a bit distorted. Yet these are the exceptions to the generally high quality of these films. The futuristic “Snow Queen,” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, is a compelling piece of stream-lined animation. And the spirited retelling of the firebird story is a real knock-out. Its visual style is a lot like the pictures of the great turn-of-the century illustrator of fairy tales, Ivan Billibin. But don’t miss Alexei Tolstoy’s take on the Pinocchio story, and the sci-fi/ecological adventure, “Alice and the Mystery of the Third Planet,” or the elegant abstractions of “The Prince, the Swan, and Czar Saltan,” based on a poem by the immortal Puskin–they nearly dance off the screen–as though Mischa himself were leading this pad de deux of animated delights.

Posted in Film