YouTube is an absolute treasure-trove when it comes to animation history. The legality of much of it might be questionable, but the various rabbit-holes can lead to some amazing discoveries. It’s all too easy to find a few minutes of procrastination have turned into a deep dive into the world of Soviet animation.

Galina Barinov’s Once Upon a Time is one of those gems, a gorgeous 17-minute short from the USSR that feels entirely otherworldly. The story is recognizable enough—it’s essentially the standard fantasy trope of the knight, dragon and maiden, transplanted into a sci-fi setting. But that’s the only standard element here.

The design is ornate, almost baroque, evoking medieval illustration but filtered through a futurist vision that must have been influenced by early issues of Heavy Metal (the colour palettes practically scream Moebius). The movement is elegantly choreographed, almost balletic in parts, and animated marvellously. The score is stunning, too, ranging from pastoral strings to some mighty magnificent synths. It’s truly a jaw-dropper.

Information on the film is scarce—all I’ve managed to dig up is the Russian wikipedia entry—so for now, you’ll have to enjoy it as a standalone work.

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