This wonderful early example of stop-motion animation was made in Russia just before the First World War. A charming and quirky film, this is the work of the relatively unknown animation pioneer Wladyslaw Starewicz (1882-1965). Starting work in animation at least ten years before Walt Disney (who, as we know, grabbed all the headlines) and almost by accident, Starewicz produced films in Lithuania, Russia and France over a long career that lasted until his death in the mid-1960s.
His interest in insects ran alongside his interest in film, eventually resulting in works like The Insects’ Christmas. In 1910, he became Director of the Museum of Natural History in Kaunas (Lithuania), where he studied various bugs and beetles by filming their activities. This obviously inspired him, and these creepy-crawlies became insect puppets after their short lives were over, transforming into his stars in imaginative works like this.
It’s a simple tale, but a sweet one. A sleepy doll watches on as a Father Christmas ornament comes to life and scrambles down the tree. It’s a cold, snowy night, but he has somewhere to be. He heads off into the forest for a festive party with his insect and animal friends. Finding a suitable spot, he magics gifts and a cheerfully decorated tree into existence, and is joined by many of the forest creatures to have fun and celebrate Christmas. They play in the snow and skate on a frozen pond, where they are joined by a friendly frog. Eventually, the party has to end and Father Christmas returns to his tree and the sleepy doll, satisfied with his evening’s work.
Insects may not be what you or I would readily associate with Christmas, but this endearing little film is nowhere near as odd or creepy as you might think – instead, it in some ways captures a tiny piece of that early childhood Christmas magic without seeming at all strange. Starewicz’s lovingly produced short remains a clever and groundbreaking use of what was then very basic film technology. An unexpected and unusual seasonal gem.
For links to more festive reading, click here!