You might want to settle in folks, this is gonna take a while.
So here we are, another Russian movie that was on Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were actually three movies that fit this mold. This, Sadko, and a movie called Ilya Muromets, which I own but haven’t reviewed yet. Interestingly, not one of them exists on the show under their original name. Sadko became The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, Ilya Muromets became The Sword and the Dragon and this became Jack Frost. Out of the three, this one remains the least changed by the transfer to the West. The dub is actual actors doing the voices rather than two people talking in heavily accented English over the Russian track, and it seems to be the one that was on MST3K, so all should be well. The name isn’t even too far off as the character of Ded Moroz translates to Grandfather Frost (although usually made into just Father Frost) and he fills the same sort of niche as Jack Frost does in American folk lore with a little bit of Santa Claus mixed in. There’s more to it than that, but that will do for this review.
Look, kid. I’m a rooster, I really don’t care if that knit ends up on Ravelry.
So we begin our story with a woman telling the tale from her window. She only shows up here at the very beginning and at the very end, so we won’t talk too much about her. She tells the tale of a poor girl named Nastenka, who lives with her father and step mother, who looks like a comic version of Judi Dench if she was kept from her make-up people and beauty regime for a year. I’m not sure if we’re seeing multiple fairytales mixed into one movie, or if they just cross over, but Nastenka is going to take up aspects of half the Disney Princesses before we’re done. When we meet her, she’s being forced to work for her ugly step-sister, and told to finish making some stockings before dawn. In fact, she’s told if she doesn’t finish the stocking by the time the rooster crows, then Dame Judi will yank her lovely long braid off. This begins the first signs of Nastenka’s very annoying habit. You see, cute little Nastenka is auditioning for the role of Jesus, which she understands was left vacant after the whole crucifixion thing. A rooster shows up, and she stops to go talk to him. I mention this because they actually show the dog sitting down in reverse. There are four or five times in this movie that an animal is shown moving in reverse when they could have just as easily gotten and animal that could, you know, sit or something. It just helps this movie be a little more wacky I guess. Can’t imagine why they’d think it needs the help.
“ Where the hell is Bond?”
She runs to a rooster and begs him not to crow, explaining that she only has one row left. The rooster is sympathetic to her plight, what with her being the Snow White of Russia and all, but claims he’s got to crow when the dawn comes. You know how it is, we all are a slave to The Man in our own little way. Until the glorious revolution that is. Even the rooster knows that if he doesn’t get his stuff done his ass will be on the line. So does she knit faster? No. She runs to the horizon and begs the sun not to rise until she finishes this one last row. I don’t know much about knitting, but I’m guessing it would take less time to just finish the stupid sock than it does to run to the sun and ask it to screw up the fabric of space and time just for her. Still, the sun is sympathetic as well, since she has eyes the size of dinner plates and skin like alabaster. It sinks below the horizon and damn the poor Transylvanians who are waiting for the sun to come up and fry Count Dracula. They aren’t as cute as she is, and those stockings aren’t going to knit themselves. So the sun goes down, she finishes, Dr. Van Helsing dies checking his watch and an almanac while Dracula eats his face, and she shows the sun her pretty stockings. The problem is that finishing the stockings just gets her yelled at because in typical Cinderella fashion, nothings good enough for Dame Judi.
Do I have anything in my teeth? Why yes, I’ve got some awesome stuck in there.
So now we meet the male lead Ivan, and the first thing about him that we learn is that even his mother thinks he’s a douche. That’s not actually a joke. When he emerges, with the worst wig I have EVER seen, his mother begs him not to be a cockbite. She doesn’t use those exact words, but you can tell that there is a measure of cockbitiness about him and his wig isn’t doing him any favors either. If the first thing said about him is that even his mother begs him to stop being such a jerk, what does that say for the rest of the movie? Well may you ask, since he then proceeds to sing a musical version of “I’m Sorry, I Can’t Hear You Over the Sound of How Awesome I Am.” Actually, it starts with all the girls macking on his hot bod and bad wig (I guess his wig just brings all the girls to the yard) and then he proceeds to sing about how awesome he is. Not joking. He actually calls himself “a handsome, jolly lad” and demands people step aside for him in his song before declaring “Ain’t I great? I’m just a delight” and “Nothing’s wrong with me, I’m just right” despite the fact that he has… THAT WIG! So he doesn’t have a self-esteem problem then, though he should. I mean he looks in the mirror about a hundred times in the first five minutes we see him, he should be able to see how bad his wig is. I’m beginning to think, and stop me if I’m wrong, that maybe Ivan is an arrogant prick who is going to learn not to be a massive prick by the end of the movie. Ya think? Maybe? We’ll see.
He took a look at her and kept walking? Is there something wrong with Russian men?
Let’s get to one of this film’s major problems. Actually, it’s a problem many films of this type share. Whenever there is a movie based on fairy tales, there tends to be a sensation of fragmentation within the narrative structure. There are vignettes, and eventually the whole tale does come together, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the movie could have had a stronger narrative thrust in the first act. I found a version of the folk tale online and the movie must be padded or have another tale in here or something. It’s done better here than in some movies, but it does mean that we meander around for a while without getting anywhere. Speaking of which, the next scene has just started.
It this about my wig?
Ivan is strolling around, talking about how just spiffy he is and how it’s a shame there aren’t two of him so he could kiss himself, when he’s set upon by bandits. These are the greatest bandits in the history of banditry by the way. While waiting for victims to show up, they pull the petals off daisies saying “We will rob them, we won’t rob them.” How can you not love guys like this? Anyway, Ivan stumbles into them and they decide to take his stuff, while not making fun of his wig. You’d think they would, but since most of them are wearing prosthetic noses, they probably feel they can’t complain too much about his artificial head covering. Ivan takes the whole thing pretty calmly, handing over his bag and letting the bandits fight over his rye bread. While the bandits are fighting, the throws their clubs into the air, announcing that they won’t come down until winter. And then… he just walks off. The bandits don’t stop him, or try to beat him up, or inform him that while he has a freaky wig, he does have a real perty mouth. They just let him wander off. Ivan wanders for a while before a mushroom starts talking to him.
After falling on hard times, Gerard Depardieu put on a false beard and joined a band of robbers.
A little guy with a beard and a mushroom hat who wants to play a game with young Ivan. The little man being a magic guy, he challenges Ivan to either a game of Hide & Seek or just a game of who is faster. The dub and subs disagree on this point, what they agree on is that if Ivan wins he’ll gain a nice bow and arrow set that the Mushroom guy just happened to have hanging around. Ivan looses the game, but for being a good sport, the little Mushroom guy gives him the bow and arrows anyway. Ivan starts to run off but the Mushroom dude tells him that he forgot to bow and say thank you for the lovely present. Ivan arrogantly tells him that his appreciation is in another castle and that bears can bow to him. Ivan walks off and the Mushroom make a comment about how the bear will bow but it will be his back that bends. Once again, it’s going to take forever for the pay off of that gag to come.
Wow, Craigslist has gotten specific over the years.
Ivan wanders around a while, kills a goose to take one feather that evidently will lead him to destiny, and comes across Nastenka. She, it seems, is busying herself trying to find Bond so Judi Dench can yell at him. Until Bond remerges, Nastenka waters a stump until flowers grow up in it. Ivan, knowing a hottie when he sees one (unlike some Russian guys I could mention) decides to go over to her and turn on the mack daddiness. The problem is, while he’s telling her about how hot he is and asking if she’ll marry him, she’s sort of unimpressed. I’m guessing it’s because she took one look at his wig and decided against him, but decided not to press that particular issue. She says he’s sort of arrogant, which he objects to on the grounds that he’s so awesome and clearly the best thing in the universe. In order to prove how awesome he is, he tells her he’ll kill a bear with one arrow. Am I missing something about Russians here? Is whacking a bear the same as showing up with flowers and nice poem among the Eastern Slavic people? I’m sort of Celtic and Gallic with a dash of Teuton, so I don’t really know about how other folk’s courting rituals go. Being a viewer of Anime, I’m a little confused by how the Japanese run their mating rituals too.
And thus, the idea for the Bucket Head Knights from Alexander Nevski was born!
Well, it seems Nastenka isn’t impressed either because she bungs a bucket on his head. The Mushroom dude realizes that his moment has come and decides to get Nastenka blamed for his little trick. He bangs those two little twigs, or bells, or whatever it is he’s holding and BOOM(!) Ivan is turned into a bear. At least that wig is gone, right? Well, if anything the bear head looks worse. This freaks Nastenka right the hell out and she faints. Ivan grabs his mirror and checks for her breath. Since he can’t resist his reflection, he also gets a quick look at himself and finding that he’s a bear reacts badly. In fact, he calls Nastenka a witch and claims she did it. This causes Nastenka to sit down and cry. She suffers so much, she’ll probably die for our sins and come back from the dead before the movie is over.
But am I still pretty?
Now, why Nastenka crying into the river should cause flowers to grow in that stump she was working on before, I have no idea. Those tears do some though, and spill from her near alien like eyes. Seriously, do they have to be that big? Anyway, the tears spill from her massive blue orbs and into the stream and this causes the flowers to grow. They grow suddenly, and she sits down and has a proper cry next to them. Ivan runs around, until the Mushroom Man shows up again and then he begs forgiveness. The Mushroom Dude however, instead of turning him back into a person, proceeds to tell Ivan some pretty unpleasant truths about himself. He goes into his selfishness, his arrogance, his narcissism and the fact that he’s never done a good thing for anyone else in his life. Ivan interprets this commentary as a need to go do good deeds, and runs off instead of listening to the Mushroom Dude, who claims that the answer is in another castle. Mushroom dude mentions that he has to collect a hundred stars and defeat Bowser, but Ivan has run off already.
Seriously, look at her! She’s all eyes with a bit of nose and mouth!
We’re then treated to Ivan trying to find people he can do good deeds for, but all the girls think he’s a werewolf and run away from him. Then, for reasons only known to the Russians, we get almost a full half minute of bear cubs running around and grabbing fake toadstools. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean to the movie, but it happens. For 28 seconds, which is a long time on screen, it’s just these two bear cubs running back and forth. They grab a fake toadstool, pick it up in their little arms, and walk back off screen. It can’t be meant to be Ivan, he’s always shown as wearing his clothes and is just bear-headed. Is it symbolic? If I had Slavs instead of Gales, Celts and Teutons in my lineage would I understand this? Is this just some circus act that someone talked the producers into or perhaps the director’s brother in law? And no, this never goes anywhere. It’s just bear cubs grab fake mushrooms and toddle off. It makes no sense! It’s just randomly weird.
What are we even looking at here?
Anyway, Nastenka comes back to the flowers she helped grown on the old stump and they have a little conversation about Ivan. She tells the flowers that she’s hopes she’s not bothering them, all the time talking in the same breathy half whisper of a voice. I checked all three audio channels, and all three actresses portray her in the same way. A soft, half whisper of a voice that tells you that when you eat of the bread and drink of the cup you should do it in remembrance of her. She asks the flowers questions about Ivan, who answer by nodding up and down or shaking from side to side. So either, these are magic flowers, grown from her magic, or she’s batshit crazy and thinks when the wind blows the flowers it’s the flower talking to her. Personally, I’m going to vote for crazy. Being slave to the wicked Judi Dench has cracked her poor mind and now she thinks she can control the dawn and talk to plants. We then go see Ivan trying to do good deeds. He gives a beggar a copeck, but that’s not enough. Can’t buy your way out of trouble kids, at least not for such a low price.
Come on! You can be the Robin to my Batman!
Now we return to the trails of Nastenka, and the cruelties foisted upon her. Her sister and Judi Dench are preparing to meet a suitor and they abuse poor Nastenka the whole time. Wiping her face with soot and wrapping her head in a scarf to cover her long lovely braid. The sister wanted to cut it off, but Dame Judi objects that if she cuts off the braid she’ll have nothing to drag her around the house with. They then comically doll the sister up for the suitor and the matchmaker. We then cross cut back to Ivan, who finds and old woman and helps her with her wood. The old woman is a little too enthusiastic about hopping on his back and getting a piggyback ride though if you ask me. Like, waaaay too enthusiastic. It’s a little creepy to be honest, like she’s been waiting for someone to give her a lift all month and is really going to enjoy this chance.
Sometimes, you don’t need a joke. Sometimes you can just sit back and let the screen cap do all the work.
So we go back to Nastenka’s sister being shown off to the suitor, his mother, the matchmaker while Nastenka is hidden away. While playing up the sister’s attributes, they claim she can cook like a dream, which is a lie because she never does a lick of work ever. The mother and suitor want proof, so they send the sister out to kill and cook a goose. Knowing that humiliation is coming, the townsfolk all show up to watch her fail. When she chases the geese, she falls into the lake. Nastenka has to run to the lake ans save her step system walking across the water instead of doing anything so pedestrian (ironically) as swimming in it. When Nastenka pulls her sister out of the water though, some of the water must have splashed on her because her face is clean and her hair is perfect. She’s not even wet, perfectly on display.
And she stepped on the ball!
While this was happening, Ivan dropped the old woman off at her home, and found that it wasn’t enough of a good deed. The problem was that The Mushroom Guy didn’t want to make him do a good deed, he wanted him to be a better person. Ivan sees the old woman’s stick, and decides to take it back to her. This actually thinking about someone is enough for the Mushroom Dude and he changes him back, at which point Ivan throws the stick down and announces to the world that he’s going to go get Nastenka. The stick disappears, but I would think for the trick to hold he should have taken it back.
Am I still wearing the wig?
Meanwhile, time passes and it becomes winter. Judi Dench tells her husband that she’s tired of Nastenka turning water to wine, raising the dead, curing the possessed, doing that loaves and fishes thing… yeah I’ll stop now. Anyway, she tells Father of The Year here to take his only daughter out to the woods and leave her there to die. And he does! WOW! What a dad! Actually, half way into the woods he decides he’s not going to do it. And seeing that her father is having a moment of courage that can’t possibly be maintained for more than two minutes, she hops off the sled so that we can tell everyone she was killed by men she loved. And seriously, when the father gets back to the house and discovers his daughter isn’t with him? He slinks right back into being the coward he was before. I hate this old man. Even the dog has nothing but contempt for him.
I haven’t had a bowel movement in fifteen years.
Ivan wanders through the wood, with no coat, hat, scarf, thermal underpants, or anything sold by either Carhartt or North Face. All he has to keep him warm is his very stupid looking wig. Still, he must be doing okay, since he’s clearly been carrying on all this time. Wandering through snow and ice, shouting Nastenka’s name over and over again. That is until he comes to the most awesome cabin in the WORLD! See, this is a cabin that walks around on chicken feet, and when it tilts the snow doesn’t shift, which means that BABA YAGA has entered the tale! WOOO HOOO!!! It seems that Baba Yaga knows Ivan, but he calls her Hunch back fairy in the dub and just old witch in the subtitles. Then comes an awesome bit of comedy. Baba Yaga wants the house to face the woods and Ivan wants the house to face him, so they go back and forth, stomping on the ground to make the house listen to them. It goes about five or six times and Baba Yaga keeps doing a little dance every time she comes out of the door. I know how dumb it is, but it cracks me up every single time.
See if you can get a gumball in my mouth from there.
Eventually, Baba Yaga announces that she’s had it with these melon farming snakes on this melon farming plane and gets the trees around her cabin to beat Ivan up. Seriously, there is nothing about this part of the movie that isn’t awesome. Once the trees throw him into her cabin, the trees hop in and push Ivan onto a large baking peel and get ready to shove him in to an oven. But the awesome doesn’t stop there! Ivan turned around and he doesn’t know how one should go about it. Seriously? Has that worked for anyone in the history of ever? Well, she falls for it, so that’s one. So, complaining about what they’re teaching kids in school these days, Baba Yaga shows him how to sit. This yields what, in hindsight, should have been predictable results. He shoves her in the oven and tosses the trees out into the snow. I’m not sure he notices, but his wig slips back quite a way during this event. He lets her out and tells her to tell him where he can find Nastenka, since that was the whole reason for his visit here.
What it’s gonna take to get you into one of these babies today?
We then cut to the other story, where a song has started and some singing has begun. It turns out to be Grandfather Frost, who at 48 minutes and 45 seconds finally shows up in a movie that bears his name! The whole movie is only like 84 minutes long by the way, so it’s taken this long to get to the title character. It also occurs to me that this is getting quite long and we’re only half way though. However, most the insanity is actually over and from here on out we basically just have plot and stuff. Frost wanders around, putting snow on the trees in some pretty good reverse filming. Normally, with someone with flowing robes, it’s very easy to tell that the film is running in reverse because of how the fabric flows. The actor and crew who did this though are great and the only sign is the obvious one that the trees shudder a bit and suddenly have snow leap up onto their branches.
I’m here! I’m here! Don’t start the movie without me!
Frost comes across Nastenka, who is freezeing to death in the snow and asks if she’s cold. Nastenka lies and tells him that she’s fine, and he rewards her lies. He takes pity on her and wraps his big coat around her. She confirms her attempt at stealing the throne of Jesus by telling Frosty that if she takes his coat, he’ll be cold so he better not. A bird lands on his staff and she proves how much you should hate her by warble-whispering ‘a bird’ like she’s never seen one before. It’s the whisper voice that bugs me with her, she never raises her voice or speaks in anything but that breathy “I’m so adowabwe that you must wuv me so evew much” sort of voice. The bird lands on the staff, becomes a lump of ice and falls off. While she morns the loss of the bird and her frustrating inability to bring it back to life despite touching it, he explains that whoever touches the thing will freeze and never wake up again. I mention this because he all but looks into the camera and shouts “Did everybody get that? Don’t want you to miss it when it becomes a plot point later!” They get on his rocket powered ice sleigh and go back to his big palace. Can I point out how awesome his outfit is and how annoying it is that our Santa just wears a big red fur coat? Father Frost’s outfit is so awesome that Santa looks sort of dull and boring by comparison.
With my new frosted highlights, I’m even cuter!
We go back to Baba Yaga telling Ivan all about how to find Nastenka, which turns out to be simply sending a little sled with a pig’s head on it to find her, which sending a cat to get there before them and pull a trick on Ivan. She keeps dancing as she goes into the house after letting Ivan go, she’s so awesome. I want to ask Baba Yaga over to have dinner with me. She’d be a hoot! Point of order, all the animals are just run backwards in this. The cat runs up the steps, and instead of shooting it running down again, they just reverse the film so the cat obviously walks backwards. Don’t know why they keep doing that.
Huh. Normally that works on the first try.
The trick is that the cat runs by Nastenka and, for our sins, causes her to touch the tip of Frost’s staff (scepter you perv!) and she turns into a cutecicle. The cat and sleigh both get back to Baba Yaga and she rewards them happily, proving that she might be evil but she likes cats and thus can’t be all bad. The movie even mentions the whole anyone who touches the staff turns to ice thing again. Her dog senses a disturbance in the Force and runs to lead Ivan the rest of the way to the house. They get to Frost’s house only to find she’s turned transparent, which is supposed to indicate frozenness. Ivan apologizes to Nastenka, which causes her to come back to life. He followers find only that the boulder has been pushed out of the way. Anyhow, she wakes up, Frost and the dog walk backwards again when just walking out would have done fine. Ivan brags at how he’s not a braggart anymore, and this time Nastenka thinks it’s cute and agrees to marry him. Baba Yaga isn’t through with them though, she knows this movie has twenty more minutes and we’ve got to have a big finish.
Did I leave the oven on?
We go back to the house of the old man, where Judi Dench is shouting at him for getting rid of Nastenka. It seems that without her to abuse and work like a slave, life isn’t fun anymore. While complaining though (or speaking of the devil one might say) Nastenka and Ivan come home to show they’ve made good. It seems that by virture of being
cute and having big eyes polite, Frost has given them coats and a big sleigh and a big box of jewels for a dowry. Sidenote: I have got to get a Russian seamstress, those people knew how to dress! SRSLY! While he had an awesome coat, Ivan still has that ugly stupid wig. Nastenka tells her father all that happened and how being cute won her all the bling she could ever want.
She is just not impressed with ABC’s new Thursday night line-up.
Now, the story isn’t quite over yet. If this were a German tale, it undoubtedly would be. The good people were rewarded, that’s about it as far as Grimm’s goes. But this is a Russian tale, so there must be some misery before we’re through. The step sister demands to be take out to the woods so she can get a chest of jewels and a husband like Nastenka got. The problem is that the sister is
not cute and doesn’t have big eyes spoiled so she insults Frost and demands these things from him. Now, in some versions of the folktale, Frost leaves her to freeze to death, but this is a children’s movie made in the 60s and even the filthy stinkin’ commies aren’t going to do that. You have to wait a little while though, because we have to have the pay off to the club thing from about a million years ago.
Nice coat, shame about the wig.
You remember the bandits from the beginning of the movie? Well, they don’t like the cold and Baba Yaga offers them more money than they’ve ever seen to whack Nastenka and Ivan. I love the person playing Baba Yaga. Georgi Millyar gives so much life and fun to this character. I want this Baba Yaga to come to my birthday party. I have GOT to see Baba Yaga drunk sometime, cause that’d be awesome. So, the bandits take on the commission and jump Ivan and Nastenka, almost causing Ivan to loose his wig in the process. However, just when our… do we call them heroes? Anyway, when it looks darkest for our heroes, those clubs Ivan threw at the beginning fall from the sky and knock out each bandit in turn. Then they kick Baba Yaga in the butt and send her on her way.
I have doubts! Not about anything specific, just doubts.
For our final bit of movie, we’ve got the return of the sister, who is on a small sled pulled by pigs. The dowry turns out to be a box of crows and the whole town turns out to laugh at her again. I feel sort of sorry for the sister at this point, because the movie is sort doing that “You see, ugly people are horrible and deserve to have bad things happen to them” thing and I don’t like that. Also, while she’s spoiled, they over do it and she’s just a product of bad parenting. The sister was sort of crapped on by this movie and I feel bad for her. The father then throws off his coat and tells Judi Dench that he’s going to make the rules now, because seeing his wife publicly humiliated gave him some backbone or something. Anyway, at that point the movie is over and all that’s left is to have Ivan and Nastenka’s wedding feast where she is as lacking of personality and pointless as she’s been this whole movie and Ivan wears and even uglier wig.
You want to see how bad this wig is? Look!
This movie is pretty good, and in places it’s really excellent, but I hate that wig. When you reach the end you sort of notice that Nastenka has made no progress as a character at all, she’s just been a sort of Christ figure and a pretty thing for the boy to eventually win. However, it’s an inventive and fun little movie, and it doesn’t even cost very much on Amazon, you do have to get it via the marketplace, but it still won’t run you much more than $20. The DVD has about 9 subtitle options, but the Russian, French and English dub tracks are all good and I think they were all dubbed so you don’t even need to worry about loosing part of the performance if you choose to listen in English. But you will need the subtitles for the songs, which aren’t dubbed.
CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!
Also, sorry this got so long. It’s a Holiday special though, right? They play this movie on Czech TV every year between Christmas and New Years, so it counts. It’s fun and it’s cute and it takes place in the same alternate dimension where The Adventures of Robin Hood takes place. It’s that super colorful light hearted romp you can watch with the kids. See? I like some things, they’re just all fricking weird.
I’ll catch ya on the flip side! Peace out G!
(I’m at a loss weather I love this lady or Baba Yaga more)
73 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.