The Snow Maiden (1952) – A Frozen Heart

What’s so appealing about Russian (then Soviet) animation? Is it the acting? The art? The stories? The fact that this art was made at a time of great suppression of self? The fact that for a regime that killed its Tsar and his family to have these stories of Princesses and Fairy Tales in the open for little ones to dream of? The clear nationalistic reason they were created? For me it’s all of them. It’s like peering in to a looking glass of an alternate Disney animations. Fascinating in its simplicity and lack of forced humour.


In the land of Berendeyans in pre-historical Russia where winter has lasted for 15 long years. Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden) is the daughter of the Spring Beauty and Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) whose love caused this long winter and whose love the sung god took a dislike when they had a child together, thus forbidding his sun from appearing. She yearns to have a human heart to feel love as she is enchanted by the Slavic god-shepherd named Lel’ who sings and plays his flute. Her parents in pity grant her wish and she begins living in the same village as Lel. There a human man named Mizgir falls in love with her, with his former lover Kupava being jealous of this. Kupava tells Tsar Berendey of her plight and he excites Mizgir from their village. Many trials come in way of Snegurochka’s happiness and her quest to understand and to feel love.


The film is very 50s in terms of animation style. Using the rotoscoping method to give the characters realism, but reminds me more of Disney’s Snow White than Cinderella. The backgrounds are beautifully done and all characters are distinguishable. The only problem is the lack of animation in the face, with only the voice acting doing the acting along with the gestures. Its mesmerising to look at if not a little tiring at times at the lack of action happening, but the music and story all but make up for it. And before anyone starts complaining the Russian folk lore hero that is Lel’ looks a little woman-ish with his lips and rosy cheeks, but that was the way hero like characters and especially half-gods were portrayed then, boyish and with a woman’s singing voice that was the height of beauty on the ears. So that’s cleared up now thank goodness.


The story is based the tale of The Snow Maiden written by the playwright Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky for the stage in 1873, which was later adapted in to an opera in 1882 with a raised version in 1898 that the animated movie bases itself on. There is music from the opera, which contained compositions from Tchaikovsky. There is talking still in this animated film, but the highlights are really the operatic parts, which add to the atmosphere of this fable. The animated film was directed by Ivan Ivanov-Vano called the “Patriarch of Soviet Animation” and his long time collaborator Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya.

The themes of this animated film are as old as time itself. There is winter, which is warm but without love and then there is spring, where love begins to bloom and is officially the death of winter. In this story there are hints of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, with the mermaid wanting a human soul for its eternal existence compared to her mermaid lifespan of 300 years with nothing after it, while Snegurochka wanting a human heart to feel love and know of its warmth even though it will kill her. When her love is rejected she flees like the little mermaid and this story has a bittersweet ending to it as well. It’s a nice subversion on who we think is the hero and her love interest in the story and the way the story goes it makes perfect folk tale sense for it to be so.

So I recommend this story for those curious of other animation styles and stories of the world, those who love fairy tales along with opera and who don’t mind subtitles.



Thank you for reading!

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