The Grand Relay [Большая эстафета] (1979)

9 min. / Russian / dir. Ivan Aksenchuk

This film was produced by Soyuzmultfilm as a promotion for the 1980 Olympic Games. It traces out the history of the Olympic games, imagining them as a “grand relay” through the ages, with the torch passed down from ancient Greece to the modern USSR.

The film begins with figures coming to life on a Greek amphora. Paris abducts Helen and the Trojan War breaks out. The battle rages as the gods watch from Mt. Olympus, and grow ever more agitated with the violence. Zeus finally intervenes by hurling down a tripod between the armies and thereby transforms their murderous combat into peaceful athletic competition. Various ancient events are showcased, and then the flame within the tripod begins to guide the viewer through the centuries. The torch is extinguished as the ancient era comes to an end (we see temples turn to ruins) and finally a man in the 19th century picks up the extinguished torch and brings it back to life. This is Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern games.

From there each modern Olympiad is listed and its location is portrayed in a relevant artistic style with accompanying music from the era, as the torch continues to be passed. Small panels show the athletic events as they would have been practiced in that time, or later, they feature live-action footage. The years in which there were no Olympics because of the World Wars are also mentioned. The film concludes with live shots of the Moscow cityscape interspersed with scenes of the animated torch bearer, as he runs through the city and with a final scene of Misha the bear, the Olympic mascot, standing on the podium celebrating a gold medal win.

The film features no dialogue or voice over, just Russian text displayed on screen at various points.

Icarus (1974)

8 min. / Canada / dir. Paul Bochner / no dialog

Watch here:

In this hand-drawn, meditative short made up of naturalistic sketches, Bochner retells the classic tale of Icarus; however, he puts a unique emphasis on the idea of the body as a prison, and on the shared hybridity of the Minotaur and of the “Bird-men” that Daedalus & his son become when they don their wings. The film ends on a cosmic note, reminiscent of Phaethon, as Icarus flies beyond the atmosphere into space, only to fall.

Looney Toons: “Porky’s Hero Agency” (1937)

8 min.; dir. Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones

A colorized version from 1967 can be viewed here:

This delightfully bizarre short begins with a young Porky Pig reading a bedtime story from a Greek myths book. He’s apparently reading the story of the Gorgon, who turned everyone she looked at into stone and was only prevented from changing every Greek into a statue by a vanquishing hero. He falls asleep wishing he could be a hero and dreams of being transformed into Porkykarkus, apparently a nod to the stage persona Parkyakarkus that was used by comedian Harry Einstein – this is one of many topical references that are stuffed into this short. Porky is hired by the Emperor Jones to sneak into the Gorgon’s statue factory, where she uses her “marvelous photographic eye” to petrify her subjects, and to steal the “bring-em-back-alive” syringe that she wears around her neck. We see the Gorgon, a lanky old lady in an Egyptian-ish headdress and a parody of a popular 1930s radio character called Lizzie Tish, hard at work. Porky dawns the appearance of a idealized male statue to trick and seduce the Gorgon, and he is able to retrieve the needle. He the sets out on the run, turning statues back into living men and women, and even animating a temple (a “Shirley Temple”) along the way. He is apprehended the Gorgon, who orders him to open his eyes, but he awakens at that moment only to realize it is actually his mother, rousing him from sleep.

This description does not do justice to the wild creativity on display in this cartoon. It is a must watch, with cameos by the Three Stooges, Popeye’s arms, the Discoboulos, and the creators themselves.


Penelope and Odysseus [Penelopa și Ulise] (1976-1981)

Seven episodes; 10 min. each; Romania (no subtitles); dir. Luminiţa Cazacu

The “Penelope and Odysseus” series is made up of seven episodes that take on the story of the heroic couple from a comical feminist perspective in a precious visual style. The films include:

1976 Condiţia Penelopei (Penelope’s Condition)

1977 Penelopa și cele 9 muze (Penelope and the 9 Muses)

1977 După amiezile Penelopei (Penelope’s Afternoons)

1979 Penelopa în templul artei (Penelope in the Temple of Art)

1980 Maratonul Penelopei (Penelope’s Marathon)

1980 Penelopa și Scufița Roșie (Penelope and Little Red Riding Hood)

1981 Penelopa și uriașii cei răi (Penelope and the Wicked Giants)

In each film, the long-suffering heroine of the Odyssey is depicted as “the embodiment of calm and patient, gentle and forgiving femininity,” as she deals with different challenges typically faced by women in contemporary society — e.g., male prejudice, professional achievement, jealousy, the rigors of fashion, stress and the many demands on women’s time — though she always forgives Odysseus’ transgressions. The films treat these issues in a humorous way, often tinged with light irony and sarcasm, which is introduced by off-screen commentators (famous Romanian actors Toma Caragiu and Octavian Cotescu).

Part of the films’ humor also derives from the juxtaposition of elements of modern civilization, such as electric appliances, appearing in the ancient setting (a la The Flinstones).


The Argonauts / Colchis [Аргонавты / Колхида] (1936)

View the film here:

10 min.; Georgia/USSR; dir. V. Mujiri

In 1936, after its incorporation into the USSR, the Republic of Georgia produced this short as its first animated film. The ten-minute film was not a straightforward retelling of Jason and Medea’s adventures in Colchis; rather, it deployed Jason as a symbol of the Soviet state’s “heroic” efforts to drain the region’s marshes and transform them into productive agricultural land. He promises Medea a garden, and undertakes to destroy the malarial mosquitoes and the cavalry of frogs that live in the area. Once he succeeds in this endeavor, he gives Medea the Golden Fleece and the two find seeds to plant fruit trees. The film appears to be the earliest animated treatment of Greek epic ever made in Russia.


Hercules: The Invincible Hero (1997)

43 min.; English; dir. Alessandro and Gloria Bulath, produced by AVO Film Edizioni

From the DVD cover: “Hercules, Jupiter’s favourite son and his little friend cloppete, King Krinios’ centaur son, are on a journey to the city of a Hundred Centaurs…what starts out as a mere stroll develops into one of his most exciting adventures! The adventure is also tainted with the prospect of Hercules meeting his true love! However Hercules must face an assortment of deadly enemies on his quest such as the multi-headed sea monster and the ferocious lion. The story delivers a series of cliffhangers where our hero is led to the dark and dangerous depths of the realm of the Dead World.”

This exceptionally low-budget, Italian-produced film is an “unofficial remake” of the Disney feature, “with the addition of elements ripped from the sci-fi/fantasy series Masters of the Universe,” according to Martin Lindner (‘Mythology for the Young at Heart’, 2017).

Aries: Shinwa no Seiza Miya [アリーズ 神話の星座宮] (1990)

45 min; Japanese; based on a shojo manga series by Rurika Fuyuki

This romance and fantasy-inspired OVA anime adapts the story of Hades and Persephone, giving it a modern twist. Middle school student Arisa Sakura starts a fortune-telling club at her school. Through her rivalry with another student, the astronomy club founder, she learns that many students at her school are actually Greek gods reincarnated who still possess great powers. This includes Arisa herself, who is a second incarnation of Persephone, though she does not recall her past life. It also includes Amano Sho, a classmate who is Hades reincarnated and with whom she is destined to fall in love all over again. Amano recalls Arisa’s tragic past life experience and he does not to lose her again. He therefore fights to protect her, in particular from Zeus, who wants access to the unique power she holds: the ability to revive the Titan.

The storyline has some similarities with Sailor Moon and may have inspired it, though there is much more direct engagement with Greek mythology here.


Cupidon (2012)

8 min.; France; no dialog; dir. Simon BAU, Clémentine CHOPLAIN, Marie ECARLAT, Benoit HUGUET, Julien SOULAGE

In this student-produced CGI short, Cupid is on the job in modern-day Paris, bringing couples together with his arrows of love. However, one assignment goes awry when he gets distracted and shoots a young man twice. This causes the man to turn into a modern Narcissus, who falls in love with himself in his own reflection. Cupid’s attempts to rectify this situation take up the bulk of the film, which ends with an almost wholly successful resolution to the mix-up.


King Midas [Krol Midas] (1963)

10 min.; no dialogue; Poland; dir. Lucjan Dembiński

An animated retelling of the classic tale of King Midas in puppet form. The film features no dialogue, only musical accompaniment (by Krzysztof Penderecki) and employs many ancient Greek and Minoan artistic motifs (especially the Snake Goddess figurine), though stylized to suit a 1960s aesthetic. In this regard, it is quite similar to Polish director Edward Sturlis’ “Orpheus and Eurydice [Orfeusz i Eurydyka]” from 1961. It also features the storyline originated by Nathaniel Hawthorne and represented in Ray Harryhausen’s 1953 animated version of the story, in which Midas has a daughter whom he turns to gold, but who then turns back to flesh and blood after the god Dionysus intervenes.

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