Mushka is a short and straight-forward narrative. A young girl, Sarah (Helena Aviv Perez), comes across a baby tiger after his mother has been killed and successfully convinces her skeptical father (Tanner Beard) to let her raise him. With the help of her friend Alex (Josh Allen Goldman) she raises the tiger, naming him “Mushka”, meaning “my darling” in Russian. But as Mushka gets older, will she be able to justify housing this wild animal? Mushka is directed by Andreas Deja, who is also the supervising animator, has a screenplay by Michael McKinney with the concept from Deja, and stars Helena Aviv Perez, Josh Allen Goldman, Tanner Beard, Ariel Goldberg, and Kelly Hoover. Post production sound services were provided by Skywalker Sound, a Lucasfilm Limited company.
Deja is an animator legend. From working on over 20 animated Disney productions, he is the talent behind fan-favorite animated characters such as Aladdin’s Jafar and The Lion King’s Scar. With his new independent short film and directorial debut, Mushka, he takes all the various lessons he’s learned as an animator to craft a moving and and beautiful tale set in rural Siberia. With his experience and his and his team’s marvelous work, Mushka is a crowing success that shows why 2D animation is still so important.
Today, the majority of theatrical animated films are 3D and CGI based. While the 3D and CGI mediums provide ample room for experimentation in animation, unfortunately their implementations suggests otherwise. So many 3D animated films look more or the same, particularly from Disney which has especially flattened the art-form for yet another conveyer-belt of content. Even when the story might be the saving grace, the animation doesn’t inspire like it used to. This conveyer belt has nearly flattened 2D animation out of the mass market, but Mushka shows where it still has tremendous value.
Deja and his fellow animators made Mushka’s canvass of animation somewhat impressionist and water-color based. But there remains much rich detail in the characters’ designs, expressions, and in the beauty of the Siberian tundra that is simultaneously detailed but impressionist at the same time. Every frame is a lovingly crafted drawing, as you can see every pencil stroke made. In its visual approach, the audience feels for young Sarah who grapples with trying to protect wildlife that she doesn’t fully understand. Unlike the over-exaggerated expressions of a Disney animal, Mushka’s facial expressions are nuanced with a healthy balance of realism that doesn’t detract from the pain, joy, and other emotions in the tiger’s face. But it’s really in his overall movements that directors Deja and his team have been able to express the entirety of what this tiger is feeling, and even thinking, to enrapture audiences into the magic of this story. It’s yet another way Mushka reminds us of the power that 2D animation has.
The themes of environmentalism and conservation are front and center in Mushka. Sarah doesn’t understand the full ramifications of taking in a wild animal, much less a tiger, in order to provide safety from poachers that killed his mother. Aviv Perez delivers a sweet and innocent performance as the young heroine, and never veers into being a caricature. Sarah has the purest intentions, but is she messing with nature in a way that will ultimately be detrimental to the baby cub? McKinney’s script doesn’t hit you over the head with these questions, but presents them through its narrative and its characters’ decisions. It shows and doesn’t tell as it ultimately leaves the answers to the audience, with its charming and moving story.
The orchestration by Marco Valerio Antonini and composition by Fabrizio Mancinelli, with the arrangement of “Mushka’s Theme” and vocals by Holly Sedillos, sets the mood for each scene. From the joy of Sarah and Mushka’s meeting, to the tragic beats set to the forces ripping them apart, to the melodic musings on the tundra, it’s captivating throughout. Mushka is a delight not only for the eyes but also for the ears.
Mushka is a triumph of animation. It’s a display of an animation master as Deja and his fellow artists craft a moving visual tale of this young girl and her tiger, diving into themes of environmentalism and the importance of respecting the natural world. With lovely visuals, a solid voice cast, beautiful music, and a balanced exploration of the themes of its subject matter, Mushka requires viewing wherever and whenever its available for wide release. You won’t regret it.
Mushka is a triumph of animation. It’s a display of an animation master as Deja and his fellow artists crafted a moving visual tale of this young girl and her tiger, diving into themes of environmentalism and the importance of respecting the natural world.