A strange and stunning fantasy from Russia's ace director Alexander Row, crafter of other exceptional fairy tales such as JACK FROST and KINGDOM OF THE CROOKED MIRRORS. This one's almost more of a circus than a film, what with all sorts of odd acrobatic, costumed creatures on the premises. Silly physical movement is a keystone in this film. People dance, wobble, somersault and prance about in a most disarming way. Director Row's a bonafide madman/genius, sort of Disney-meets- Eisenstein. There's a lot of neat (though primitive) process photography, reminding one of the early trick films of Melies. (At one point, the main characters lose their faces, due to a quaint use of distorted mirrors. Row loves mirror tricks in all his films). The underwater kingdom we eventually visit is somewhat unnerving, abounding with fanciful creatures like grotesque laughing fish, a gruesome stuttering human frog, a miniature harem, a lot of ghosts, a lyre with moving eyes and imprisoned creatures like lobsters and walrus-men. The stilted, bad dubbing, suggests the original-language version was rich in Russian dialect. (The "Dance of the Seven Pirates" is so bizarre, they just let 'em warble it in their native tongue, which must have freaked out the circa '65 suburban kids.) Many of the animal characters talk in goofy, indecipherable voices. The talking bears are hilarious. The underwater scenes have rippling water superimposed, an effect at first effective, then distracting. There are some incredible sets, some wild lap dissolves, and a lot of reverse photography. A visual feast for all. The United Video version, which is still around, starts off with a wonderful theatrical trailer for this uncanny fantasy gem.
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