Director – Alexander Rou, Screenplay – Vitaly Gubarev with the Participation of L. Arkadiev, Based on the Novel by Vitaly Gubarev, Photography – L. Akimov & V. Dultsev, Music – A. Filippenko, Production Design – A. Klopotovsky & A. Vagichev. Production Company – Gorky Film Studio/Second Artists’ Association.
Olia Yukina (Olia), Tanya Yukina (Ailo), A. Kubatsky (King Torrap 77), T. Nosova (Aunt Lasaew), M. Barysheva (Grandmother), A. Tsinman (Most Important Minister Daot), A Fait (Important Minister Etik), A. Stapran (Dneirf), I. Kuznetsov (Evals), L. Vertinskaya (Elitper), A. Khvylia (Royal Chef), G. Millyar (Most Important Minister of Ceremonies), P. Pavlenko (Important Minister of Ceremonies)
Olia steps through a mirror and is surprised to find herself in a strange kingdom. She meets an exact double Ailo, who reveals that she is Olia’s mirror self. They see a boy Dneirf arrested by guards for his refusal to create crooked mirrors that present a distortion of reality. Olia and Ailo set out to rescue him. This requires getting into the palace of King Torrap. Aided by the cook Aunt Lasaew, they sneak into the palace disguised as royal pages in order to steal the key to his cell that is kept in the throne room.
Soviet Cinema, the period when Russia was part of the Communist-ruled USSR, produced quite a number of genre works. Most of these were works of space exploration about conquering the stars. Amidst this, there were some lesser known attempts to conduct works of fantasy, including even their own version of Mary Poppins.
The film is based on a 1951 children’s book by journalist Vitaly Gubarev (1912-81). The book proved quite a success and is regarded as a classic of Russian children’s literature. Gubarev adapted it into a play and also wrote the screenplay for the film. Gubarev wrote other children’s books – one of these was subsequently adapted into the film In the Distant Kingdom (1972).
The Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors seems like a Soviet attempt to make a The Wizard of Oz (1939) – or given the journey into the land of the mirror theme perhaps more so the Alice in Wonderland sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass (1871). As with many of the Soviet films of this era, being backed by state studios rather than commercial production companies (as US films were) meant that there were more lavish budgets placed into the films. There is quite a bit of expense gone into the costumes, the crooked sets and the like.
It looks good. Only it is a lesser work that comes out as fairly stodgy and never quite takes much in the way of flight of imaginative fantasy as say The Wizard of Oz or any of the film versions of Alice in Wonderland (1865) do. The fantasy elements are pedestrian. The story is never engaging – there is the plot of the twins setting out to rescue their friend but it never feels like an epic life or death struggle.
The two twins – Olia and Tanya Yukina – are precocious and not terribly likeable. Some of the performances, particularly A. Kubatsky as the king, are allowed to go on in loud, giggly ways that prove an annoyance to anybody except probably young children.