Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

11:48:14 pm , 560 words, 6829 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Movie

The Wild Swans

Of the various of the old Russian feature-length animated features, there's one that's always had a special place in my heart for some reason. Maybe because I wasn't born in time to watch it in the 60s in real-time, the more realistic and somewhat Snow White-ish approach of The Snow Queen never did much for me. I could identify much more with Ivan, though I haven't seen that film in its original version, only the mangled dub available over here, so I don't have a proper appreciation of it.

The only one that struck me on first viewing it - and stuck with me to the point of eventually making the effort of tracking down the Russian-language videotape so that I could watch it in its original version - was the seemingly underappreciated The Wild Swans (1962). I can see how it might not have become as popular as the latter films, as it can hardly compete in terms of nuanced characterisation and dynamic pacing, but it's always appeared obvious that it was trying to do something completely unrelated and much more deeply satisfying on so many levels. Here they weren't trying to make an animated analogue to a live-action film but revelling in the inherent flatness of the medium of animation and bridging the world of storytelling and the world of animation in a way that none of these other fairy tale adaptions seemed to do.

Each shot operates first and foremost as a beautiful creation in and of itself, with background stylization and animation calculated together to create a seamless unit. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, and when used is poetic in its succinctness, while the music creates a continuous flow from scene to scene that builds the tension to tremendously moving climaxes in the great tradition of the Russian symphonic poems. Just as in music something other than language conveys richly complex emotions, so here the nonverbal visual means of animation is used to create a powerfully moving living tapestry. Music isn't a utilitarian background prop but an integral part of the whole, in the foreground with the animation. When the two are left to their own devices, the results are breathtaking. The flight scenes, which are the high point of the film, and seem to epitomize what the creators were trying to achieve with the film, are among the most moving and beautiful animated sequences I've ever seen, attaining a state of grace that manages to go beyond the story being told.

Unfortunately, about midway through the film the astounding tension built up in the first thirty minutes is abruptly cut short and followed by about ten minutes straight of monotonous dialogue, following which the second half of the film somehow ceases to feel very magical. But if for nothing but those first thirty minutes of near-perfection, the film is a masterpiece. I haven't seen any other animated films that come close to the inspired tension they attained in those first thirty minutes. The film was recently released on DVD in Japan, so this will be a welcome opportunity to revisit the film to see how it compares with my memory of it, to say nothing of seeing the film in better quality and actually understanding what is going on. Understanding the dialogue may help elucidate the reason for the curiously fractured nature of the film.



jay smith
jay smith [Visitor]

shame to hear you didnt like snow queen, gotta admit i really enjoyed the film!

if you ever feel like watching the original version you can download it (and tons of other russian animations) here:

10/19/05 @ 08:12
Ben [Visitor]

I actually very much would like a chance to reappraise Snow Queen as well, this time properly subtitled in the original Russian, so that I could appreciate it properly.

Thanks for the link.

10/19/05 @ 12:08
jay smith
jay smith [Visitor]

hmmmm, strange it was working yesterday!

anyway if it ever works again, its a great site. i downloaded a very strange russian made moomin series! very odd!

10/20/05 @ 12:34
Ben [Visitor]

Probably too many people downloading stuff. Seems nuts to host all that on one server. It’s certainly an incredible selection.

10/20/05 @ 13:05
Philip [Visitor]

thanks so much, jay, for that link…

however: apparently there’s a warning on the site to refrain from downloading outside the window between 2am and 8am moscow time. repeated attempts will apparently result in permanent blockage.

10/22/05 @ 03:49
roxfan [Visitor]

I have the “remastered” Snow Queen DVD and a translated script that needs some editing. Unfortunately our editor got busy with real life issues so the project is kinda stuck at the moment. I’m also not sure if we can actually release a fansub of it, since apparently there is an english dub, so some company does hold the rights to it.
If you think you can help editing or have other suggestions or questions, feel free to email me at roxfan* or pm roxfan in

10/24/05 @ 16:56
alice [Visitor]  

Hey, I’m not sure if this is an appropriate place to ask, but I’m curious if you have any information on where to obtain a copy of the Wild Swans. It was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid, but it got lost a while back. I’ve been searching for a place to buy it, but like you said, it is sadly under appreciated and so information regarding it is hard to find. The version I had when I was a kid was the first English dub they released of it, sometime in the 60s I think. If you can just leave me some kind of lead for where I can find any version of it, I would really appreciate it. Thanks. By the way, I really liked your article. It’s like you said everything I felt about the movie. Except it’s very well-written.

01/11/08 @ 19:52
Ben [Member]  

One way you can get it is to download Дикие лебеди from the page linked in the comments. It’s presumably the original Russian version, without subtitles. (make sure to download between 3 to 9 p.m. PST) I personally bought the Authorized International Edition on VHS a long time ago - Finally, it’s available in an English dub on DVD on the first volume of “Stories from my Childhood” along with several other classic Soyuzmultfilm films.

01/13/08 @ 13:34
Ruth [Visitor]  

Does anyone know where to find the old 1960 English dub of this?

07/24/08 @ 10:09
Jen [Visitor]  

I have been looking everywhere for this movie on vhs (or maybe even on dvd to make things easier) but have had no luck. Do any of you guys know where I can buy it?

11/24/08 @ 21:23
Ben [Member]  

Japanese DVD pictured here with original Russian audio and Japanese subs (no English subs) is here.

12/01/08 @ 14:24
Flower [Visitor]  

There are four different English dubs made of this movie (that I know of) and all are on Amazon, with three of them being in stock. The first dub was made back in 1985 and is under the title “Swans", and has songs performed by the band The Bullets. The next two were released as “Hans Christian Anderson’s The Wild Swans” (This is the Forever Fairytales one, and the same video is under two different categories on Amazon.) and I think just “The Wild Swans", which is not currently in stock on Amazon. Both were done in the early 90s I think, and the last English dub was made around 97/98 by Jove films or whatever and was turned into part of a series called ‘Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Stories from My Childhood’ which can be found on vhs and dvd.

I hope this helps anyone looking for English versions of this movie, because its information that I wish someone could have told me. If anyone has anything else they want to know about these dubs, e-mail me at and I’d love to help.

01/20/09 @ 19:08
Candice [Visitor]  

I remember owning an english dubbed version a while back on vhs. Does anyone remember a cute little animated music video about a girl who lost her red balloon? It was a short clip that played before the feature film. For some reason I remember that song and music video now and I’d love to find the VHS so that I could see it again…

04/14/09 @ 23:15
Damian [Visitor]

Hey guys! I’m looking for king’s song from 1985 dub version. Something like “The one thing missing is you… Elisa! Without you…". I found it on YT, but it’s a part of full movie with polish reader. And I need clean version :) HELP PLS! :)

03/11/12 @ 18:57
Ewa [Visitor]

I know it’s an old post, but it took me ages to find the version Damian mentioned, so I want to share it with the others, who could look for it in the future:

11/14/15 @ 13:45