Ukraine’s funniest folk tales are retold in a new cartoon series called The Adventures of Kotyhoroshko and Friends
The project evolved from The Magic Peas, an extremely popular Ukrainian cartoon of recent years. It tells the story of Kotyhoroshko, a boy who is magically born out of a pea pod to parents who have always wished for a child. He goes on to slay an evil sorcerer and become a hero. The 13-minute long cartoon was finished in 2008 but was leaked onto the Internet before being released on the 8-disk Collection of Modern Ukrainian Cartoons 2000–2008. Eventually, it became one of the most viewed Ukrainian short cartoons on the web. Yaroslava Rudenko-Shvedova, creator of The Magic Peas, seems indifferent to its sudden popularity. A true cartoonist, she remains fixated on her work alone rather than the honors it has received. Three seasons of The Adventures of Kotyhoroshko and Friends will be produced, each with four 13-minute episodes.
U.W.: So, what came first? Did The Magic Peas inspire you to create a series or did you already have the series in mind and The Magic Peas was the first episode?
The Magic Peas is not really a pilot project. It’s a complete film with a beginning and an end. I added the phrase “There is still much evil left in the world and we’ll meet again and again” to the final scene as the characters were departing after their adventures, although I didn’t have anything particular in mind. I just needed a nice ending to the story. And when good friends say goodbye, they definitely need an excuse for another meeting, so I came up with the battle against evil. A little later we found that we’d come up with so many plots and stories for The Magic Peas that we had enough for an entire series.
U.W.: Your plans look optimistic these days, don’t they?
No! I have no right to think that way! I had a fantastic team: artist Eduard Kyrych, script writer Vadym Shynkariov – a godsend, really – and great cartoonists Oleksandr Lavrov and Mykhailo Tytov. They all have a great sense of humor, know the art of comedy and are willing to work with ethnographic themes. Take Kotyhoroshko, Vernyhora the mountain sorcerer, Vernydub the tree sorcerer, and Vernyvus who can turn water into whirls with his moustache. They are all strongmen, giants, legendary super-heroes, and still Verhyhora’s wife gets the better of him. The Straw Calf is an eager dancer in one of our episodes that sheds golden hey and coins when he dances. When Pudia, a young giant, steals the Straw Calf, Kotyhoroshko and his friends end up making new straw toys for him in exchange for the Straw Calf. Our approach was to find eccentric and funny elements in fairy tales, myths and legends, turning them into independent stories and presenting them in animated cartoons.
U.W.: The series has become a trivial form of animation. Stepan Koval launched his My Country Ukraine and Professionals series, while Oleksandr Bubnov is about to finish the second sequence of his Sherlock Holmes. How will the series format make your cartoon different?
I’ll let you in on a secret: we won’t have a chance to make a bad series the way many others do. We were supposed to simplify everything for the series, yet my team is so full of ideas and inventions that we couldn’t help but make every episode like a feature film. Moreover, we now know where we’re going and when we’ll finish it. The project is planned for three years and we are supposed to make four episodes each year, starting this year.
U.W.: The State Film Administration supported and approved your cartoon. Would you rather have had private funding? Public funding in Ukraine means insane red tape…
Everything depends on what you do and how you treat your work. The funds they’ve allocated will hardly buy us a fancy life, yet we can use it to create a film, our own film. I see nothing wrong with that. Stepan Koval, for instance, does what he wants to do using public funding and he does a great job. With private funding, however, say from a bank, there’s a good chance that you’ll get into trouble. I used to work with a director on Until the Second Advent funded by a private investor. We did a great job, it was fun and creative, but the bankers didn’t like it and the cartoon was soon lost and forgotten.
U.W.: The State Film Administration’s rules entail lawsuits and fines for late reports and late project completion. One production company is already undergoing this procedure right now. Do you think you’ll be able to meet the deadlines? Four 13-minute episodes every year is a lot of work.
A long time ago, when I was young, I worked at the Borysthenes studio. It was my first job. I was art director for a video called Welcome. I took too long to draw the backgrounds. I thought that’s how it worked while people waited for me and relied on me. They wanted to take the film to Cannes. And I blew it for them, broke the deadline. It still bothers me. Now, I see a broken deadline as a catastrophe, nothing less than that, you can’t imagine how bad I feel about breaking deadlines!
U.W.: The Magic Peas is a great success anyway. Yet, half of any film’s success is the names of those involved. The pilot project was dubbed by Ostap Stupka and Bohdan Beniuk, both popular Ukrainian theater and film actors. Will you continue to work with well-known actors?
It’s too early to talk about that now. We’ll talk to the actors once we begin shooting. The work on The Magic Peas was fun, emotional and our actors were happy as well. Moreover, everyone on the set contributed so much to it and we don’t want to lose anyone. I think Bohdan Beniuk will want to do it again, or so it seemed back then. We already have consent from Ostap Stupka who dubbed the Hoopoe. Foma, leader of the band “Mandry” provided the voice of the grandfather. He would just turn into a creaky old man as soon as he entered the studio. He made us laugh until we cried. Vadym Shynkariov did the cat voice, he did a great job. In short, we’ll stick with everyone who is willing to keep working on it, and we’ll find the new actors to replace those who aren’t.
U.W.: How do you see the future of your cartoon?
You know, everyone has his or her role. I’m the director who proposed the idea. I was entrusted to produce it and I’m trying to do my best. The future is up to those who ordered the series. It would look great on Ukrainian TV channels.
The Adventures of Kotyhoroshko and His Friends
Kotyhoroshko is a popular character in Ukrainian folk tales, endowed with super strength with the mace as his key symbol. The name is used everywhere, from games to furniture, kindergartens and a bar in Lviv. There is a bronze statue of Kotyhoroshko in Kyiv and an oak one in Chernivtsi. In 1970, the Kyiv Science Film Studio produced a Kotyhoroshko cartoon directed by Borys Khranevych.
The cartoon is made using classical hand-drawn 2D animation. The Magic Peas was made in the Ukrainian Animation Film Studio style, while the Kotyhoroshko series will be closer to Disney-type cartoons with more detail and realistic backgrounds. In contrast to The Magic Peas, the Kotyhoroshko series will involve effects produced in Adobe After Effects, while Toon Boom Animate Pro is used for contours and silhouettes.
Yaroslava Rudenko-Shvedova is an art director, film director, scriptwriter and cartoonist. She started her career at the Ukrainian Animation Film Studio in the late 1980s and worked at the Borysthenes studio beginning in the 1990s. She has worked on French, British and Italian cartoons and cartoon series.