Alice’s Birthday (2009)
Film review #502
Director: Sergey Seryogin
SYNOPSIS: Alice Selezneva has just failed a history exam at school, but things are looking up, as a friend of her Father’s Gromozeka, has arranged a trip for her birthday to the planet of Koleida with a research expedition. The planet once had a flourishing civilisation, but a space virus wiped it out centuries ago. Alice decides to use the expedition’s time travel machine to go back in time (along with Professor Rrr, another member of the expedition) to save the planet’s population, not knowing the virus is still alive in the present and approaching the camp of the expedition…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Alice’s Birthday is a 2009 animated sci-fi film, which is a re-imagining of the popular 1987 film Lilac Ball and the original novel. The film starts out introducing Alice, an energetic and mischievous girl who fails a history exam after causing chaos in the classroom. She meets up with her Father’s friend Gromozeka, who has a surprise for her upcoming birthday: to join a research expedition to the planet Koleida, where a flourishing civilisation was wiped out by a space virus centuries ago. The film, as mentioned is a re-imagining of the film Lilac Ball and it’s original novel, part of a series of adventures starring the character of Alice. The series was quite popular in the Soviet Union, and so this film is riding a little on that nostalgia bandwagon. However, it certainly stands as a film in it’s own right too, as the story deviates from the original film a fair amount, and being an animated film, has a lot more freedom to bring the futuristic world to life. The story itself flows pretty well, being split into a fairly typical three-act structure that has a good amount of variety, humour, action, and even some scary dark moments. The essentials of the story are things that you have probably seen before involving time travel and trying to change to change the course of the future in time, but it is still entertaining enough to watch.
Alice is a very typical lead for these types of films: adventurous, mischievous, and a typical kid which it’s young audience can identify with. Her character has a wide range of emotions and relationships with other characters, so she feels like a well-rounded individual with enough spirit and energy to be her own person. One notable difference in the rest of the characters form Lilac Ball is that the animated medium gives a lot more freedom to give the aliens a more alien design; in Lilac Ball, the characters which were aliens in the novels were re-imagined as mostly human; in the animated Alice’s Birthday, the aliens aboard the research expedition are all shapes and sizes, and though we don’t hear from many of them, their unique appearances make the film colourful and interesting. There is some weird comments near the beginning of the film, which seem to suggest there’s some discrimination against aliens on Earth, but it’s not really brought up again or addressed, so that’s a bit odd. The minor characters, like Professor Rrr and Gromozeka have a very specific role, and you know what to expect when they’re on screen, which is comforting. On a more novel note, the commander of the expedition is voiced by Natalya Murashkevich, who played Alice in Lilac Ball and the 1984 mini series Guest from the Future, which is a nice nod to those productions, and reinforcing the idea that there is a bit of reliance on nostalgia for this film, even though the target audience is obviously a generation that will not have seen those originals.
The animation is fairly fluid, and the characters and world are colourful and animated enough so that it feels like things never really stand still. This is good in the action scenes, but it becomes a bit more choppy when the characters are moving more slowly. I’m not sure how this compares to other contemporary Russian animation, but it feels like a mix between modern productions, while also having a bit of that Soviet-era aesthetic within it too. Again, maybe that’s part of the nostalgia effect the film is riding on. There’s some musical numbers which are a bit generic, but again, perfectly serviceable for a children’s film. Overall, Alice’s Birthday creates a colourful and energetic world for it’s titular character to be her adventurous self: the designs of the aliens and the futuristic setting are fun, varied and interesting. The story is a little formulaic being a very typical time travel scenario, but it is still made entertaining by having interesting, individual characters, and expressing a variety of emotions throughout the different scenes. A decent children’s film, which also banks on some nostalgia for a beloved character for adults too, although they probably won’t find too much appeal in the content of the film.