Russian animator Yuriy Norshteyn has been at work on his animated feature “The Overcoat” based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol for well over 20 years. He shoots on film. He uses hand made figures, moving them around on multiple panes of glass. He refuses to use computers.
Norshteyn’s dedication to his vision is overwhelming. In a career that has lasted half a century, he has produced fewer total minutes of footage than many feature length films. But for Norshteyn, the speed he might gain by turning to the computers for help in his process is not worth the sacrifice. He strongly believes they would be unable to create the kind of imagery he is after.
I suspect he is right. Time and focus on craft imbue his work with a sense of delicacy, sensitivity, and attention. Comparing the tiny film “Hedgehog in the Fog” to any major animated film coming out of Hollywood is like comparing a handwritten letter to a text message. The pure physicality of the thing moves you.
If “Hedgehog in the Fog” is like a letter, it is a letter full of poetic musings about spirituality and the journey of life. The film is quiet, mysterious, opening itself to interpretation, declaring nothing and suggesting everything. It is at once comforting and enigmatic.
While the story is simple—a hedgehog gets lost in the fog on his way to count the stars with his friend the bear cub—the film can easily be seen as a metaphor for the adventure of life.
“And slowly he began to make his way downhill to get into the fog and see for himself what it was like inside there.”
Hedgehog follows the path less traveled. He enters the unknown bravely despite his timid nature. He follows a vision, an internal driving question (what about the horse?), guided by a clear sense of curiosity and wonder.
“If the horse lies down to sleep, will it choke in the fog?”
Though Hedgehog is easily frightened, often hiding his eyes in momentary terror, he does not give into his fear—he prods around in the fog with a stick. He does a little dance to imitate the butterflies as if to comfort himself.
Hedgehog allows himself to become overtaken by the sublime beauty and mystery of the natural world.
When, for a brief moment, all seems lost and he seems convinced he will die, Hedgehog surrenders himself to the tides of the river where he is finally rescued by a mysterious Someone.
“I’m in the river. Let the water carry me along.”
This mysterious someone is the unexpected guide who comes to us in our darkest moments. Hedgehog allows his guide to take him safely across the river to the other shore.
The entire journey into and out of the fog, ending finally at the bear cub’s house only takes about nine minutes. Yet it is clear that this short excursion has changed Hedgehog in some fundamental way. All he did was take an unexpected turn into the fog while on a familiar walk. Hedgehog took the plunge into the unknown and the obscure and it showed him that a world of beauty and meaning can be contained in the smallest of things.
“The Bear cub talked and the hedgehog thought ‘Isn’t it wonderful that we are together again?’ and also he thought about the horse. How is she there in the fog?”
This simple fact about small things is something that I know somewhere deep down. But I often forget and need things like The Hedgehog in the Fog to remind me sometimes. I suspect we all occasionally need such reminders.