Alisa’s Birthday/ dir. Sergei Seregin/ 2008/ Russia
It has nearly been a month since the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival ended, and I am now finally reviewing the last animated feature I saw at SIFF this year. And I can’t think of a better movie to end my 2009 SIFF experience.
The art style and animation may turn folks off of this film and if you saw the SIFF trailer for Alisa’s Birthday, with its awful English voice-over dub and its campy upbeat tone, you may think its just a bunch of children’s fluff. To be truthful, yes, Alisa’s Birthday is geared more towards younger children, but unlike the other PBS kids’ specials I watched at SIFF, Alisa’s Birthday offered the audience a richer experience with moral dilemmas, contemplative moments, and *gasp* real emotion. All of which eventually led to a pretty decent animated film. Make no mistake, it doesn’t reach the pinnacle of Pixar or Studio Ghibli animated films, but Alisa’s Birthday is entertaining nonetheless.
Alisa’s Birthday revolves around Alisa, a young girl living in the latter half of the 21st century. For her birthday present, a family friend takes her on a scientific expedition to an extinct and mysterious planet. While on the planet, the scientific team is atttacked by a deadly space virus. Alisa must go back in time to not only save the team, but also save the extinct planet.
In terms of plot and story, there were holes and question marks here and there, and there are plenty of moments of “how did we get to that?” But the thing that kept the story going, no matter how ridiculous it got, was the acting. Luckily for this screening, the Russian voices were used, and you can tell the voice actors were really got into this film, as each voice actor gave their character genuine emotion throughout the film.
In terms of animation and style. The look of Alisa’s Birthday reminded me a little of the animated Magic School Bus, which for me was a good thing since I loved that show. There were plenty of different character designs, since there were different alien species. I also enjoyed that the folks of the extinct planet had a slightly different look than Earth folk and the character animation for each was pretty good as well. However, the real delight was in the way environments and backgrounds were designed. The future Utopian- Moscow was rich in vibrant colors and joyful sounds, while the extinct planet and its past were drab brown and grays. It really sold the aspect of being in a different time and world.
All in all, Alisa’s Birthday, while not solid in terms of story, it was still an enjoyable and entertaining movie. The “Alice” franchise (yes Alice not Alisa…?) is big in Russia, and the effort that the actors put into their characters really sold most of the movie and kept it going. The art style while cartoony, fit the film, especially the environments. I’ve stated this before, so I’ll do it again, I’m always impressed with Russian animation.