Yuri Norstein’s 1975 Hedgehog in the Fog is one of the greatest lyrical stop-motion animated shorts to come out of Russia. It is based on a Russian folktale of the same name from Sergey Kozlov, and the film is loaded with atmosphere.
It’s a story of a hedgehog that is on his way to visit his friend, the bear, where they will drink tea and count the stars together. Along the way, his curiosity leads him to become lost in the fog, and he encounters a beautiful white horse.
He wonders aloud whether or not the horse would choke if it were to sleep in the fog. In the thick of the fog, he is confronted by objects and other animals, much to his anxiety. In the end, he makes his way out and meets up with the bear, who has been worried about the hedgehog. The hedgehog is happy to be back with his friend, but still he can’t help wondering about the horse.
The film is hauntingly beautiful, and uses a special animation technique that consists of glass planes for movement and depth. It bleeds nostalgia, and if you listen — the sound is just incredible. Some of the whispering reminded me of a Leos Carax film.
Norstein has inspired many filmmakers for that matter, such as Director Michel Gondrey and acclaimed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who is quoted to have said: “Hedgehog in the Fog to be one of his most precious favorites.”
Other animated films of that time in the 1970s were being made with very two dimensional characters that lacked emotion. Yuri Norstein showed us another way the form could take on a deeper meaning. It’s remarkable for a 40-year-old film.
Yuri Norstein is one of the most celebrated Russian animators of his time, best known for his short films.
He begun making a feature in 1981 called The Overcoat, and is still making it now. There have been a lot of false starts and financial troubles, so there is only 25 minutes of the 65 minute film made. But, also due to his perfectionism, he has been nicknamed “The Golden Snail.”
Two of his long-time collaborators on the animations are his wife and artist Francesca Yarbusova, and cinematographer Aleksandr Zhukovskiy.
Another one worth looking at is his 1979 animation Tale of Tales, which is a non-linear animation about memories. This film in particular has been compared with another great Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, because of the memory and nostalgia. Or I’ve heard some even sum this film up as “Tarkovsky for Babies.”
If you want to find out more about Russian animation, watch Magica Russica — “A documentary that gives a poetic view of Russian animation, and of cultural and social transformations Russian society has been gone through. It is about multi-faceted and humoros animation, almost never exposed to Western eyes.”