Our series of short articles on short animations is back after a hiatus. With so much coming out in cinemas and at festivals, the talented animators out there on youtube sadly had to take a backseat to the might of werewolves and circus afros. Needless to say, it’s coming back with an absolute classic, Yuri Norstein‘s sublime The Hedgehog in the Fog. If you have any recommendations for Weekend Shorts, or if you have made a short animation that is available online, please let me know in the comments section or via Twitter/Facebook.
In The Simpsons, when Krusty loses Itchy and Scratchy to the Gabbo show, he plays instead the Soviet equivalent, Worker and Parasite. It’s a bizarre, incomprehensible mess, and to many that is the prevailing image of Eastern European animation. In all honesty, many animated shorts from this area are confounding, strange little things. Yet there is a rich world of animation out there, and this weekend’s short film, Hedgehog in the Fog is straight out of Soviet Era Russia, and is one of the most charming, delightful shorts I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s not told with the slick skill of, say, a Pixar short, but essentially it’s a story about a small person lost in a bigger world, who just wants to find his friend. Nothing too strange or odd about that at all.
What is so utterly winning about Norstein’s film is the tone of it. It’s at times unnerving (the feeling of being totally lost is always quite discomfiting for me), but the layered, story book style of animation means that the ten minutes pass like something out of a dream. The fog gives the impression that nothing is quite the way it seems, and as owls and bats flit in and out, and a mysterious horse lingers in the murk, this misty world becomes the realm of the unknown. There is a sensation of curiosity and exploration that runs throughout the film, topped off by the fact that he has taken his journey merely to gaze at the stars. My knowledge of Russian History and Yuri Norstein is severely lacking, but perhaps during the time of relaxation during the cold war known as detente, Norstein’s film reflects an increasing freedom of film makers to explore. The slightly melancholic, fearful atmosphere could further suggest that the freedom is not total and still carries risks. That’s putting a spin on it that I have no basis for, so don’t take it as fact; it’s merely a passing thought.
This short is also a great example of Mickey Mousing, the technique in which the non-diegetic music reflects the movement and action of the film. So when flies flutter in, the piano flutters with them. It just adds to the slightly ethereal quality of the film, which is perhaps best displayed in the moment when the Hedgehog walks with a firefly lantern into the dark. Norstein captures that one moment with such breathtaking beauty that this ten minute film becomes a more effective, haunting and gorgeous piece of storytelling that most feature films can only dream of.