Sadko (1953)

Sadko is a hunk of a poet with a harp, but he’s got a delima. Two girls are madly in love with him! One is a nice village girl but she has a weird pigeon habit…. The other is a Princess of the Sea who keeps giving him expensive magical gifts…. Clearly the thing to do is get out of town quick, so Sadko trades 3 magic goldfish for 3 boats and sets sail to find his place in the world. Along for the ride are a small army, and Uncle Klepto, Big John, and Timmy the brash young mascot of the group (not their actual names but they might as well be). These heroes are so wooden they’re practically Russian painted icons.

Sadko and Co. spend the rest of the movie traveling to exotic places and getting into trouble with the locals. They battle Vikings, and play chess with the King of India. They bet a laughing horse for the Bird of Happiness and discover her true nature is not what they thought. They fight and are heroic, and on the return trip a storm threatens to sink the ships, so Sadko goes to the bottom of the sea to soothe an argument between King Neptune and his wife by entertaining them with his harp. Although the Princess loves Sadko she knows he prefers the pigeon girl. She helps him get home again on a speedy seahorse.

This is a very nice looking film. The story is fantastical without being too familiar. There is plenty of Russian flavor to make it semi-exotic to American tastes, and the Russian folk dancing is amazing. The special fx are charming and obvious, like stage tricks. When Sadko lifts a magic fish the light rays emitting from it are actually hundreds of metal wires sticking out of the fish! Most of the exotic locations are drawings, but the India sequence is full of elephants and dancing girls and over the top temples. The Bird of Paradise is satisfyingly surreal in a way that just wouldn’t happen now with CGI. The final act in Neptune’s Kingdom is a campy delight.