Drawing on mythology, this Ukrainian animated fairytale is a surprising and poignant story for today’s audiences. Mavka: The Forest Song centres on the character of Mavka, (voiced by Laurie Hymes), a kind forest spirit who signals the coming of spring.
She is told to stay away from humans due to a generational feud between man and the forest, but begins to question that wisdom when she befriends kind musician Lukas (Eddy Lee). Their connection, and a possible truce between worlds, is threatened by Kylina (Sarah Natochenny), who wants to use innocent people to find a magical tree.
If you thought this might have been the latest offering from Disney, that’s because its influences are clear to see. The animation style is reminiscent of the modern Princess movies like Frozen or Tangled (Lukas bears a strong resemblance to the latter’s Flynn Ryder), while the story borrows from many modern classics.
But to call it a ripoff would be selling the film short, as the animation lives up to that high standard. The forest, and its inhabitants, are all magnificently realised, while the wholesome environmentally friendly moral is sincere enough to be taken seriously. Given the film’s origin, it would be tempting to draw a parallel between this story of defending yourself from invading forces and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
That’s a stretch, as the emphasis is clearly on the natural world, but there is a message of overcoming oppression that sits nicely alongside the affection felt for the besieged country at the moment. In a genre dominated by intellectual property and sequels, Mavka is a graceful callback to the heyday of standalone stories told well. In the crowded summer holiday line-up, this independent gem deserves to be discovered.
Mavka: The Forest Song is available now