While South Korea has produced some truly unique and genre bending films over the past few decades, there has been a noticeable absence in the realm of animation. While animated films are already tough to come by, stop-motion animation in the form of feature length films is almost nonexistent in South Korea. However, director Park Jae-beom has sought to change that with his charming stop-motion film, Mother Land, marking the first South Korean stop-motion feature film in almost half a century.
At the heart of Mother Land is the journey of Krisha, a brave girl whose family are nomadic reindeer herders on the Siberian Tundra. When Krisha’s mother becomes ill, the village shaman advises her to follow the North Star to the Ancient Forest and seek the guardian of legend—the great red bear that has been haunting her with visions. Along with her younger brother Kolya, Krisha must brave the beautiful yet dangerous landscape in order to save her mother as well as find herself.
Director Park's film seeks to mirror the issues of our own world—a confrontation between nature and industry, where the antagonistic Lieutenant Vladimir aims for death and destruction as a way to prove his worth and serve his country. Coexistence with nature and the idea of taking only what is necessary from nature are prominent themes that echo throughout Mother Land.
The film's animation style evokes a nostalgic charm reminiscent of the old Rankin-Bass Stop-Motion Christmas Specials. The snowy tundra illuminated by the aurora borealis adds to the enchantment of the setting and the animation style brings a sense of magic to every frame. While the animation style is able to effectively create an aura of warmth around the characters, the style occasionally dulls the sense of danger in various instances throughout the film. It is an animation style that is absolutely admirable and pleasant, yet it doesn't achieve any type of groundbreaking impact that you might find in works like Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline.
Mother Land is certainly a delightful and lovely film, marking a significant accomplishment in Korean cinema given the country's animation history. However, it falls short of delivering any groundbreaking elements and come in at a pretty short 68 minutes. While perfect for young audiences as a folklore fantasy storytelling experience that imparts respect for family and tradition, it may lack the impact desired by older viewers. Nevertheless, Mother Land ushers in a hopeful era for South Korean animation, and its endearing journey is a treat for anyone looking for something a little more wholesome.