The Yates are a nomad tribe of the tundra. Mother Land focuses on a family that’s a part of the Yates; a young girl named Krisha, her younger brother Kolya, and their two parents. Krisha is having dreams of reindeer death and a red bear with glowing red eyes. She begins to see this red bear in real life, which results in her mother being injured while they’re working during a snow storm.
The injury evolves into a serious illness. A shaman visits and informs Krisha and her family that they must travel to the Northern Land and find the red bear in order to save Krisha’s mother. Krisha’s father chooses to go to the city to get his wife medicine. Conversely, Krisha listens to the shaman instead, venturing to the Northern Land on her own. Meanwhile, Captain Vladmir of the federal army and Bazak, a former Yate turned cold-blooded hunter, is on the hunt for the red bear, who is believed to be the master of the forest.
Mother Land is the first Korean stop-motion animated film in 45 years. From Studio Yona, Mother Land is directed by Park Jae-beom and is his first full length film. The tundra in the movie is based on a documentary called The Last Tundra. Studio Yona also opted to keep the use of 3D effects to a minimum, as nearly everything in Mother Land is handmade.
With a man-versus-nature theme, the storyline of the film resembles that seen in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The Yates are a tribe that live with reindeer as Serodeto is the one that gets the most screen time. Serodeto accompanies Kolya on her quest to find the red bear. The reindeer dolls are also the most adorable in the film. What’s interesting though is that the Yates also eat reindeer. They have their own way of honoring them, but they drink their blood to stay warm and eat their flesh as a form of sustenance. The tribe also skins the reindeer, as their pelts are used to stay warm during brutal winters.
The charm of the animation of Mother Land is that you can see its imperfections. Unlike Laika, which has smoothed out its animation over the years, Mother Land is more like Wes Anderson films Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. When it comes to the dolls used in the film that have a lot of hair like the red bear, you can see shifts in its hair between frames.
Eye pieces on the human dolls like Krisha have a noticeable line across the face right above the nose, which were probably changed out regularly to show expressions. Those sometimes rigid movements in stop-motion animation are what makes it feel like a different genre. Hand-made animation is going to show flaws because it was made by humans and seeing that translate on-screen is part of what makes Mother Land memorable. It’s not quite as crude as Gumby or Davey and Goliath, but it certainly feels like a descendent of that animation style.
Captain Vladmir, despite his limited screen time, is a ruthless villain for an animated film. Vladmir hired Bazak to hunt down the red bear and doesn’t want to leave without the mystical animal’s pelt. He shoots Kolya without hesitation or remorse.
The fact that a villain in an animated film is willing to shoot a kid, with no doubt in his mind that it’s a totally logical thing to do, is terrifying.
At 68-minutes, it feels like Mother Land barely scratches the surface of some interesting Korean lore that Americans are only vaguely familiar with. It also seems as though the general message the film attempts to portray is that we should prioritize our family no matter what the consequences may be.
Mother Land is a beautiful handcrafted fantasy overflowing with intricate details and bursting with color.
- Feels like unique animation.
- A ruthless villain.
- The Red Bear.
- The story is a little predictable.
- Its short length is both a blessing and a curse.