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Mavka: The Forest Song (Film Review)

4 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

When you think of a fairytale movie or an animated feature, big companies such as Disney, Dreamworks or Pixar come to mind. While they've dominated the film industry for decades, they now get unexpected competition. The newest collaboration between the Ukrainian Animagrad Studio and directors Oleh Malamuzh (The Stolen Princess) and Oleksandra Ruban, : The Forest Song, is based on the classic play by one of Ukraine's most famous poets, Lesya Ukrainka. It's a play about the country's folklore, identity and pride, which certainly come through in this movie. On top of that, you have stunning colours and fun and lively characters, and that's why Mavka: The Forest Song or just Mavka is a movie you need to see.

Courtesy of Animagrad Animation Studio

While the plot of Ukrainka's play might have been simplified and a bit romanticised for entertainment purposes, it doesn't take anything away from the beauty and heart of the story. After having to endure a terrible invasion by humans in the past, the Ukrainian forests have now found peace again. Their countless spirits, ancient trees and animals roam freely in their sacred realm. One of them is Mavka, who has an adorable cat frog Swampy as a pet. This nymph is undoubtedly the most beautiful and forgiving creature in the forest because of her exquisite green hair, large Bambi eyes and magical healing powers. The forest protector certainly sees that as he elects her as the Protector of the Forest. This doesn't sit well with the three other nymphs, who are jealous of her. There's certainly a sort of “Cinderella vs her three stepsisters” vibe going on in this movie.

Before Mavka can well and truly take in what just happened, she has to step up her game to protect the Forest and its Heart – the Source of Life – from humans. The wealthy, Cruella de Vil-like villain Kalin has sent village boy Lucas to the forest to retrieve the Source of Life in her quest for eternal youth. However, when Lucas meets Mavka, he falls head over heels for her. Their forbidden love seems to have a short lifespan when her forest forbids the love, and Kylina abuses that love to penetrate the forest. Can Mavka protect her forest from the evil human, and will the love between her and Lukas stand the test?

What instantly stands out is the vibrancy and cuteness of this feature. The movie is spectacular and looks like a stunning Disney or Pixar film. The animated special effects hit home, thanks to the liveliness of the visuals. Because the storyline is a bit predictable, as there's the forbidden love story and Mavka indeed becoming the new guardian of the forest, the filmmakers had to create a visual spectacle, and that's precisely what they did.

Courtesy of Animagrad Animation Studio

The characters heighten the cuteness of this movie even more. Mavka is the innocent, forgiving, headstrong and beautiful nymph who wants to do what's best for her and her forest, while Swampy is her perfect sidekick. This funny creature is a cute cat and a joyful dog together, which is certainly something we would like to take home and cuddle a lot. While Lukas is the predictable clumsy but also caring and loving farm boy, his wonderful presence still adds more fun and emotions to this movie.

The filmmakers combine the stunning visuals beautifully with a very fitting score, which is, without a doubt, also the most Ukrainian aspect (if you see the English version). Each instrumental tune fits every scene so well. Whether it's the powerful song during Mavka's transformation, the romantic music during the intimate scenes between Mavka and Lukas or the darker score when the fight between the humans and the forest breaks out, the perfectly chosen score fits what you see on-screen so beautifully.

Because of the continuous war in Ukraine, some people might see this feature as a political statement, mainly because it's about good versus evil and a cruel attack from humans. Whether you see it that way is up to you, but isn't supporting special effects artists, animators, and filmmakers crucial during these times, whether they're at war or not? We think so, especially because Mavka is a movie you certainly want to give a chance for many reasons. It's a stunning feature with a lot of heart, soul, humour, vibrant colours and heartwarming characters.

Mavka: The Forest Song is now out in UK and Irish cinemas in the original Ukrainian version (with English subtitles) and the English version.