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In the evenings, the little Hedgehog went to the Bear Cub to count stars. They would sit on the log and sip tea, gazing at the starry sky. It hung on the roof, just behind the chimney. To the right of the chimney were the Bear Cub's stars and the stars to the left were the Hedgehog's.
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Russian, and for that matter, most East European animation, is a world away from Disney's sanitised world where nothing bad ever happens. While Disney strived for animation perfection, where the movement of Snow White's dress is more important than the story, the European and Soviet school of animation was always more about the story.
"Hedgehog in the fog" is one of the best examples of the difference between the two schools of animation. If Disney had made it, the little Hedgehog would probably have been reduced to a Winnie the Pooh type creature and no doubt there would have been a catchy song or two to jolly it all along. All the other animals would have had speaking parts, there would have been jokes and no doubt there would have been a big musical finale when Hedgehog and Bear are re-united around the camp fire.
So it's a good job that it was made by Yuri Norstein instead.
What he made is a beautiful, lyrical and deceptively simple animated story of how a curious little hedgehog takes a detour through the mysterious fog on the way to see his friend, the little bear, gets lost and then finds his way out again. But there is much, much more in this little movie than just that. Like many great works of art it adopts the philosophy that less is more. There is nothing superfluous here. Not a single frame is wasted. The stop motion animation, like the illustrations, has a magical, dreamlike quality. The unsaturated, almost monochrome colours of the backgrounds takes us into the real magical world of fairy tales and fantasy in a way that Disney et al could never manage. Indeed, it is the absolute simplicity of this wonderful little movie that makes it so beautiful to watch. The dreamlike quality of the images is enhanced still further by the haunting musical score. The sparse narration is gravely intoned like a beautiful Russian poem. The words themselves don't really matter, it is the effect of the sound of the voice that is important. It doesn't matter if you don't understand Russian, the story is told by the images.
Images and symbolism, music and dreams, all combine to make a great little movie. Or you can see it just as a simple story if you wish. With Disney and the others you just get the simple story.
There are moments of exquisite beauty that transcend description. When the Hedgehog first walks into the mist, like an awe struck child he whispers that he can't even see his paw! This moment alone is worth the price of the movie. As is the moment when he calls to the white horse. All he says is "Loshad!"(horse, in Russian) but it's the way he says it. Almost everything about this film has the innocence and wonder of a child's view of the world. The inquisitiveness of a child exploring an unfamiliar and slightly frightening world for the first time. A journey into the unknown, like the journey through life. To get somewhere you sometimes have to leave the well trodden path. It ends up in the same place but you see a whole new world on the way. The world is a beautiful place and there are many places to see. There are countless paths we can take and most of them have no maps to guide us. All we need is a little courage, a little fear and the belief that there is always a light to show us the way through the mist. The light of love and friendship.
The final moments tell another story too. Watch the expressions of the bear and the hedgehog as they talk. The bear is so relieved to know his friend has arrived safely but also because it means his life of routine and order is restored. He needs the hedgehog to count the stars and to bring raspberry jam because that's how it has always been. Without the hedgehog his world would fall apart. He is safe within his comfort zone, happy to live his life without change, without challenge, without fear. He's happy to count the stars but would never once think about reaching for them. But the hedgehog is different. Watch the expression, almost of regret, as he listens to the bear. He has seen the world in a different way, he has seen the magical world inside the mist, another dimension. He has felt the excitement of exploring new worlds, the fear of being lost, new emotions, new friends. And as he sits on the log with the bear, he thinks about the white horse in the mist. How is she?
You can draw your own metaphorical conclusions.
But we know that the Hedgehog's world will never be the same again.
Neither will mine.
Thank you to Annushka for the light.
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