An ancient forest contains many mysteries and secrets. Behind a large mountain within the forest is the heart and the main source of life given to the forest and its dwellers; this source is known as the spark. One winter, when the forest and all who lived there were resting, a human from the outside world broke into the forest. The stranger was seeking a miracle for his unwell daughter, which the guardian of the forest granted; however, the stranger later returned with an army seeking the source of the forest for himself. A battle occurred, and sadly, the outcome wasn’t good. When the forest’s creatures woke up in the spring, they were shocked and saddened by the destruction and harm caused by humans. With no choice, the forest and its creatures closed off the outside world, forcing humans never to set foot near the dark mountain again.
Years have passed since the tragic battle took place. The ancient forest’s season changes from winter to spring, awakening Mavka (Laurie Hymes), a soul living in the forest. Mavka is filled with joy and excitement due to the change in weather. Everything has turned from icy cold into beautiful trees and flowers, and the forest glows at its best. Outside the forest, we meet Lucas (Eddy Lee), a skilled flute player who desires to become a musical legend. We also discover that Lucas has an uncle who is unwell and sick. A new stranger enters Lucas’ town, Kylina (Sarah Natochenny), who offers the people riches and jewels if they try to enter the forest. They decline and walk away, except for Lucas, who needs the money to buy proper medicine to save his unwell uncle. Now Lucas will attempt to enter the forest behind the dark mountain. The question is will he be able to save his uncle in time?
For those unaware, Mavka: The Forest Song is based on a well-known poetic play titled The Forest Song by Lesya Ukrainka. Containing influence from the images of Slavic mythology, this movie is an animation best suited for a younger audience. The film is filled with many fun creatures, such as a kittyfrog, bound to please many. The character design of Mavka and the forest’s protector, known as The Guardian, are the major standouts for their creativity. The instrumental score is also a huge strong point, and at various times I felt the musical tracks reminded me of some of the big-budget Disney films.
While the film includes some strong cinematic magic moments, it also lacks in other areas. Some characters, such as Lucas, are visually weaker than Mavka. Other human characters look bland and dull, such as the villain’s dim-witted henchmen. The dialogue could be clearer, but this will stand out more for adult audiences. A younger pair of eyes on this film will enjoy the many bright colours, characters and fantasy aspects played throughout. Although, many of the plot details feel bloated and perhaps complex, particularly the opening, which I found was heavily on exposition.
Overall, audiences who adore animated films with solid aspects of fantasy, romance, and, let’s not forget, the random uplifting musical numbers will love this one. However, while some aspects here are strong, such as the visuals of a couple of key characters- including Mavka- and a strong soundtrack, the film is best suited to a much younger audience who will appreciate the creativity, imagination, and wacky gags. Sadly, many characters here look and sound uninteresting and deliver clunky dialogue. The plot outline carries a familiar vibe to previous animated films such as Ferngully and Frozen, to name a few. It is also expositionally heavy, which could be challenging for younger audiences to swallow. Even with inspiration from Slavic mythology, there is a familiar tone from start to finish. Mavka: The Forest Song (2023) is Available in Australian Cinemas from April 6th (Available in Qld & NT from March 30th).