'Koo! Kin-dza-dza' ('Ku! Kin-dza-dza'): Helsinki Review

Koo! Kin-dza-dza Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Helsinki International Film Festival

Koo! Kin-dza-dza Still - H 2014

An enjoyable sci-fi 'toon with straightforward social subtext

Two Russians are teleported to a bizarrely segregated planet

An animated voyage from the sidewalks of Moscow to a hitherto unknown galaxy, Georgi Daneliya and Tatjana Iljina's Koo! Kin-dza-dza requires a mismatched pair of humans to master the ways of aliens whose customs, however bizarre, protect a social hierarchy as recognizably arbitrary as that of any Earthbound society. Creatively imagined and nicely paced, the comic adventure should find receptive viewers in that segment of the English-speaking animation audience that isn't subtitle-averse. Language barrier and that off-putting title aside, it's kid-friendly, though older humanoids will be the easiest target to hit.

Evidently an adaptation of a nearly two-decade old film in which Daneliya satirized ethnic conflicts in the Soviet Union, this film's moral conflicts are as universal as the old Star Trek episode in which the actors with white paint on the right side of their faces were at war with the ones with white paint on the left. Here, weird-looking beasties of every variety tell each other apart by the color of their pants, nose rings, and little glowing headpieces (not to mention the ray guns with which the powerful frequently threaten their lessers). When peasants cross paths with the elite, they must perform a little curtsy-bow greeting lest they be seen as disrespectful.

The humans being introduced to this world are a renowned (and appropriately haughty) cellist named Vladimir and Tolik, a youth who was just moments ago asking Vladimir for money. The two were interrupted by a space traveler they mistook for a beggar, then accidentally teleported to a world, Pluke, whose inhabitants can somehow read their minds and are disdainful of the concerns they find there. Begging for help getting back to Earth, they learn they have only two assets: a box of matches, which are mysteriously very valuable here, and Vladimir's cello, whose sounds are appreciated here very differently than they are back home. Though they'll sometimes agree to help, the inhabitants of Pluke have a habit of ditching the two at the first opportunity.

The film's script moves through its episodic paces nicely, rationing out bits of useful knowledge about the planet and observing how each man's personality is suited (or not) to surviving out of his element. Vladimir's repeated humiliations are especially entertaining, and he's eventually forced (while still wearing his concert tails) to stoop on all fours while those with more useful skills use him as a human stool.

Exotically cartoonish character design and backgrounds are integrated well with the occasional computer-generated element (like a rustbucket robot and various space vessels), while numerous nods to Star Wars's Tatooine belie the creativity on hand in designing the behavior and appearance of these comically disagreeable aliens.

Production company: Reflexion Films

Cast: Nikolai Gubenko, Andrei Leonov, Alexei Kolgan, Alexander Adabashian

Directors: Georgi Daneliya, Tatjana Iljina

Screenwriters: Georji Daneliya, Andrey Ysachev, Aleksandr Adabashian

Producers: Konstantin Ernst, Yuriy Kushneryov, Sergei Seljanov, Oleg Urushev, Leonid Jarmolnik

Executive producer: Georgi Gitis

Editor: Sergei Minakin

Music: Giya Kancheli

No rating, 96 minutes