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Russia's Paranoid Patriotism Gets a Cartoon Movie

“Children Versus Wizards.” Image: YouTube.

“Children Versus Wizards.” Image: YouTube.

A Russian charity group has made what appears to be a truly amazing animated film. The movie, titled “Children Versus Wizards,” is a Russian chauvinist’s fantasy. It takes place in a world overcome by dark magic and NATO, where Russia alone resists the tide of Western evil. The movie isn’t out yet, but there is a promotional video available on YouTube, and the footage is as unusual as it is stunningly ugly.

The plot

The events in the film are depicted as having occurred 15 years ago. Two military cadets, Ivan Tsaritsyn and Petr Tikhogromov, are sent to Scotland, where they’re meant to infiltrate the “Higher Academy of Occult Sciences.” Their mission is to find five Russian orphans who traveled abroad to study at the wizard school. Instead of returning home, however (to their orphanages), these children “began to have a negative attitude toward Russia.” Ivan and Petr are charged with discovering why they turned against their homeland.

The enemy attacks in 2004, just as it did in 1941. Once again, Russia is threatened with invasion, except this is a subtler enemy. The enemy wants revenge for losing in the Second World War.

At the same time, the wizard school dispatches to Moscow its own star pupil, a “former Russian” named Leonard. In Russia, he meets with schoolchildren, and performs various “miracles,” in order to lure them back to Scotland.

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(Definitely not Deatheaters.)

The [internal] enemy is something else altogether. The main antagonist, Leonard, took up occultism and betrayed his homeland. But this isn’t visible to others. He didn’t become an enemy outwardly or take on the enemy’s form. On the outside, he remains the same, but he’s changed on the inside. At first glance, he is Russian, but he hates Russia. He doesn’t break the law, he respects boundaries, and he’s even extremely law abiding, but he is an enemy even more frightening than the one Russia faced 75 years ago [the Nazis]. You can’t tell him apart from everyone else, but he’s cultivating hatred against Russia in the youth, so they grow up to become enemies of our fatherland. Such children speak Russian, they even live here, but they’re only at home in other countries. A hidden enemy is far more dangerous than one you can see.

Just look at how crazy-law-abiding this guy is. He sits in his chair, drives through green traffic lights ... wears pants.

Just look at how crazy-law-abiding this guy is. He sits in his chair, drives through green traffic lights … wears pants.

At one school, Leonard encounters a girl named Nadia Eropkina, who “has that rare ability to notice what others do not see.” Armed with this spidey sense, she tries extra hard to resist the charms of Leonard. (She’s later tricked into coming to the university, where she’s eventually rescued and returned to Russia.)

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Back at the cadet ranch, Ivan and Petr join the muscly Lieutenant Colonel Telegin, a special forces veteran of several wars and “combat operations.” They board a military helicopter and set off for the shores of Scotland, but inclement weather forces them to ditch their aircraft over Kosovo. Luckily, there’s a nearby warehouse hidden in the mountains containing Russian “mini-helicopters” stashed away in 1999.

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In a flashback sequence, Telegin treats the boys to a tale of how these helicopters were used to “fight off the bandits” and rescue the locals. When they find the helicopters, Telegin convinces the boys to take a “minor detour” to Greece, where they can get advice from a group of Orthodox priests and receive a blessing.

(Every boy's dream.)

(Every boy's dream.)

In Greece, it’s revealed that Ivan suffers from excessive pride. In order to understand the nature of spiritual struggle, he spends a night alone in a cave, where he’s confronted by various horrors and monsters. He emerges fine, though, and the next day he gets a blessing and a wooden cross. Then the three set off again, this time for the university’s castle in Scotland. When they arrive, Telegin hides in the forest, as he’s too old and buff to pass for a student.

(Every boy's dream, continued.)

(Every boy's dream, continued.)

Once inside the school, Ivan and Petr perform all manner of shenanigans, trying to blend in and outsmart the faculty, while searching for their compatriots. When they find them, all but one of them are “no longer Russian, but [merely] Russian-speaking.” They have “renounced everything in mankind that saves his humanity,” and they now “serve dark forces.”

Flying on something that isn't a mini-helicopter? Heresy!

(You know they're evil because they're flying on something that isn't a mini-helicopter.)

Luckily, the entire time Ivan and Petr were skulking about the campus, Lieutenant Colonel Telegin was planting mines, which he detonates when rescuing the film’s heroes. (He’s able to find the children amidst all the explosions thanks to the wooden cross Ivan received in Greece, which, it turns out, glows brightly—like, really brightly—when gripped during prayer.)

(Definitely not Dumbledore's Deluminator.)

(Definitely not Dumbledore's Deluminator.)

Flying away from the burning castle, the heroes are confronted by NATO warships, deployed by the university’s demented headmaster. As they fall within the crosshairs of the vessels below, the children begin to pray together. A moment later, a bunch of Russian nuclear submarines surface, and the NATO ships immediately retreat.

All this madness is still only a watered-down version of the book

The book “Children Versus Wizards” emerged in 2004. The publisher—curiously named after the home of the KGB’s headquarters—says it was written by a Greek businessman named Nikos Zervas, though an exhaustive search in 2006 by the newspaper Kommersant strongly suggests that the book’s origins are entirely Russian.

The film differs from its source material in several ways. Most notably, Harry Potter appears to have been removed from the plot. Zervas released the book just a year after JK Rowling published “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth book in the series. Also by that time, there were already three Potter films available, together earning nearly $3 billion worldwide.

In Zervas’ book, interest in Harry Potter (who’s a real person, in the story’s universe) is what allows the evil wizards to infiltrate Russia in the first place. Potter is described as Merlin’s greatest student (and, at the end of the book, he’s revealed to be Hermione’s hormone-injecting, transvestite sister). Public interest in Potter weakens the “spiritual shield” around Russia, which has until now preserved it as one of the world’s last bastions of Christianity.

Not all of the book’s villains are warped versions of JK Rowling’s beloved characters, however. There’s also Leo Ryabinovsky, Kokhan Kosh, and “the famous American wizard Moisha Skopidofl.” (These are all stereotypical Jewish names.)

Who made this?

The film is the work of the St. Sergius of Radonezh Charity Foundation, an organization that says its primary function is providing support to orphans, handicapped persons, and veterans. While the foundation says it operates without regard for “nationality, citizenship, or religion,” it appears to have close ties to state and religious officials in Russia. On its website, the group says it produced “Children Versus Wizards” with help from the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox publishing house “Foma,” and the Suvorov Military School, as well as the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Culture. It’s unclear what support exactly these groups offered to the film.

Brought to you by...

Brought to you by…

In an interview with the website Russkaya Planeta, Elena Asanbekova, the film’s administrative director, said that the Russian Orthodox Church’s public relations department helped by writing a letter to Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s minister of culture, asking the state to offer some assistance. The “Foma” publishing house wrote a similar letter to Medinsky. (It’s not clear if the Russian government ultimately funded the project, but the film’s producers do credit the ministries of culture and defense with “support.”)

Asanbekova also said Orthodox priests agreed to bless the film’s production, and they provided the voices for the movie’s cleric characters.

The director of the film is a man named Nikolai Mazurov, who works as the general director at an advertising studio called Madmoon. On Vimeo, you can watch three promotional videos uploaded by Madmoon: one is for a clothing store, the other is for a veterinarians’ conference, and the third is a commercial for Gazprom, Russia's biggest natural gas producer.

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The director, Nikolai Mazurov.

Years ago, Mazurov was an active LiveJournal user, where he posted reviews of Hollywood films (he loved Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”), along with some of his own photography. (A warning: not all of Mazurov’s pictures from this time adhere to the chastity at the heart of “Children Versus Wizards.”)

Archpriest Sergy Shashtin, a rector at the Krutitsy Metochion in Moscow, appears several times in the film’s promotional video on YouTube. Shashtin works with youths in Russia and Serbia, maintaining cross-cultural bonds with projects like “Our Serbia,” “Serbian Code,” and “The School of Friendship.” In the film’s promo, Shashtin says Russia is at war today, putting a spiritual spin on what’s commonly referred to as an “information war” in political discourse:

The war that’s going on right now, it’s not happening on the battlefield—it’s occurring in people’s souls. And the main goal today is the preservation of the morality of our children and our younger generations.

Are Russians into this?

The promo for “Children Versus Wizards” arrived on YouTube on December 29, 2015. For roughly six weeks, nobody seemed to notice. Then, in mid-February, interest suddenly exploded. The surge may have something to do with the military-themed holiday Defender of the Fatherland Day, which Russians celebrate on February 23. As of the time of this writing, the video has more than 106,300 views.

On Vkontakte, where the film’s page now has 340 members, the vast majority of the comments are negative, if not downright abusive. Despite a devoted contingent of fans (many of whom seem to be familiar with the books), most Internet users appear to think “Children Versus Wizards” is a poorly animated piece of “patriotic trash.” Several people compare the movie unfavorably with Hollywood’s offerings from the past decade, including “Zootopia,” “The Lorax,” and “The Guardians.”

In August 2014, the YouTube blogger PisiMISSED posted a 10-minute review of Zervas’ original book, mocking its plot, racism, Russian chauvinism, and poor writing. The video has almost 75,000 views.

For all the derision, there is also a petition on Change.org asking Russia's Ministry of Culture to support a sequel for the film (a curious campaign, considering that the first installment hasn't yet been released). The petition has more than 10,600 signatures, according to the website.

Why make this movie?

In her interview, Elena Asanbekova said her team’s main objective was to make an educational film using unique animation. She says the movie has been prescreened for some children, who watched it slack jawed, amazed by the “special effects and good animation” and won over by the “deeper meaning” and “humor.”

The film, like the book, perhaps wouldn’t exist without the support of people in the Russian Orthodox Church. Why did they settle on this story about evil wizards as a means of winning back Russia’s “lost youth”?

Archpriest Sergy Shashtin never explains his particular interest in “Children Versus Wizards,” but his name did come up at a Russian Orthodox conference in May 2009, where clergy members discussed ways for the church to recruit new members. At the meeting, the clerics said, “The missionary’s task is to create a hook for raising interest in one’s faith—interest in God.” One priest in particular concluded, “The most successful missionaries were the ancient prophets. They went around naked, eating feces, and marrying harlots—all in order to reach people.”

In today’s world, however, why eat filth, when you can upload it to YouTube, where 106,300 people will consume it for you?

  • Giorgio, Canada

    Russian establishment political and social culture is sliding back into the crude ages of Soviet times. Not that it was ever sophisticated but at least there was some room for those who wanted to make it better in the 1990. Putin’s troops make sure intelligent people will not matter in Russia.

  • TIM TOMSEN

    Russian logic’s to all “friends” is remember to be an accommodating

    friend, and I will pretend to be your friend.

    And always let me do as a want!!!!! OR I WILL brake your feet and stick them on your head and smash YOUR TEETH down your throat!!!!

    Who is the aggressor?

    NO doubt it is Russia !

    Putin continue talking about Russia’s nuclear weapons and hinting to the world, that they will blow up everyone if we don’t let Russia have their toys and let Russia take over any landmass from any nation it wants and let it rape the resources and sell to any nation including back to the very nation it stole it from ..(Russia selling Ukraine back the coal that Russia has stolen from Ukraine in the donbas)…

    Putin also likes to do this threatening and hinting act, about nuclear war as a reminder tactic about Russians nuclear weapons, just to show the world and his voters, what a big man he is and a big nation Russia is lol…

    What Russians and Putin don’t seem to understand, is that it comes off in the west, as a bit childish, pathetic and small small winner syndrome… AND NOT dignified, powerful and respectful like his Russian peanut brains think it does …

    But most Russian are victims of small small winner syndrome, and that is how the Russian nations nervous mental emotional disorder and physiological neurosis functions in Putin s Russia today it acts a bit childish, pathetic with a small small winner syndrome complex .. at to add too the paranoia they rant away about fascists in Kyiv and dark U.S. plots to purge Russian speakers from East Ukraine. It’s not just what they say but how they say it that is so disturbing: irrational spirals of paranoia, theories so elaborate and illogical one can’t possibly argue with them.

    And this is even before the CIA bombs start falling on them: the errand is always the same PUTINS propaganda goal is to keep the 140-million-strong population reeling with oohs and aaahs about homosex and God, Satan, fascists, the CIA and far-fetched geopolitical nightmares. And all because of Russian small small winner syndrome complex it works like a trick..

    RT News, Alexey Nikolov, told in a interviewed once to western media when asked What does Russia Today stand and what is the Russian point of view…

    He answered …“Oh, there is always a Russian point of view,” he answered. “Take a banana. For someone it’s food. For someone else it’s a weapon. For a racist it’s something to tease a black person with.”

    And there you have it: Russia’s opportunistic foreign policy, all wrapped up in a banana metaphor.

    Thus the Kremlin preaches non-intervention and sovereignty while defending Assad, yet uses the reverse position to justify the invasion of Georgia and annexation of Crimea. Thus it warns against American exceptionalism while claiming that Russia has a special mission to rule over and enlighten its “near abroad.” The Russian point of view is anything the Kremlin wants it to be.

    When it comes to Ukraine, disseminating “a Russian point of view” has increasingly meant helping Russian military and intelligence operations. For example, after Moscow-supported rebels in East Ukraine shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet in July, RT spat out a multitude of conspiracy theories (from claims that the real target of the attack was Putin’s personal plane to assertions that Ukrainian fighter jets were behind the tragedy), in order to direct attention away from the real perpetrators.

    Some of these tricks smack of an updated model of Active Measures, the Soviet era KGB-run disinformation and psychological warfare department designed to confuse and disorganize the West.

    The aim is to confuse rather than convince, to trash the information space so the audience gives up looking for any truth amid the chaos.

    In the west their also remains a residual, 20th-century belief that Russian propaganda can be countered by delivering “real information” to audiences. But Russian TV doesn’t try to prove “the truth.” And what good is giving “the truth” to an audience that has been emotionally spun by the Kremlin not to believe it? Inside Russia today, there is plenty of access to alternative information online, and ethnic Russians outside the country have plenty of “reliable” sources, but their emotional allegiance is to Kremlin broadcasters. The West will need the type of programs that will give Russian audiences the analytical tools to understand how they are being psychologically manipulated by Kremlin media. Is there a media version of Penn and Teller out there—a program that could debunk propaganda the way the duo demystifies magic tricks?

    In the words of Russian media analyst Vassily Gatov: “If the 20th century was defined by the battle for freedom of information and against censorship, the 21st century will be defined by malevolent actors, states or corporations, abusing the right to freedom of information for quite other ends.”

    Russians now see the west with their Russian childish pathetic kid like way where they see the boogieman (the west) under the bed and behind every turn…

    Russians will see the boogieman with a twist of vodka paranoia in the mix, so it fits with what they wish to believe, and that is that the bogie man is real and comes from the west and is out to get them..

    Yes a sort of Putin KGB drink mix propaganda of shaken not stirred where they see CIA, NATO, Mi6 James Bond bogie man under every stone and around every corner trying to take Russia down to the abyss of evil and enslave the Russian people and the evidence is on the net and RT – News channel with hard core hard hitting evidence that the Ukrainians and the CIA ousting Putin’s boy in Kiev Yanukovich …lol

    The only conclusion one can take from this is why Russians try to act big and powerful is to scare the so called bogie man off and that is why Putin is coming with small hinting tactics of nuclear war and talking about the so called massive stockpiles of Russia’s nuclear weapons… lol

    Like having nuclear weapons was some sort of spacial magic like a Russian voodoo protection trick that they now have against all their perceived evil that comes from the west…..

    Yes some very spacial magic nuclear weapons and with this trick Putin elude the Russians into getting them self’s to thinking, they are the only nation that have accesses to nuclear weapons…..lol

    This way the drunk vodka drinking nation and the drunken Boris the doggy Russian of this world can turn off the night light when he goes to bed and dream about the strong Russian bear Putin, riding half naked on his horse showing the world his massive Russian manliness, by flexing his man like chest like a Russian real man does so Boris the doggy Russian of the Putin-world knows KGB Putin is on the job.

    Russia is a joke and will always be a joke Russians have nothing at all to be proud of Stalin’s USSR and today’s Putin’s Russia are and was totalitarian states..

    Putin is appealing to the most basic of instincts and fears of Russians. Many Russians harbor insecurities related to loss of the evil empire that was the USSR, and with that Russians idea of superpower status..

    With Putin now Russians would like to reclaim this feeling and idea of the superpower status lol…

    Russia today is known mostly for being nothing more than a petro state run by oligarch elite that answers to only one leader and the leadership is Mr Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin himself…

    Russia is one step away from in all but name a fascist state and to deflect this simple facts, Putins Russia uses total strong hold and control over the media and over Russia’s gas energy sector, military, FSB and Police force.

    When ever Putin feels that it is needed Putin’s thugs the FSB boys take control of anything they want and they do this internally and externally, all this gets backed up with source of lies and propaganda to deflect the world from the real truth about what Russia really is, a mentally sick nation and society full of people controlled and living in a dream of a past that never really existed (or at least not in the way they wish it was )

    Lest be honest the Soviet Union 1922–1991 only was in word history for 69 years not much of a super power if you only can claim 69 years in history before you was wiped out of existence …69 years my grandmother Bessy is older than that LOL

    Or what am i not right ????? USSR can only claim 69 years it started in 1922–1991 ….

    Russians USSR a superpower don’t make me laugh….it was nothing more and still is nothing more than a evil state run by evil little people that just has some nukes under their control.. and as the cowards they are wave around them self’s this weapons and shout about them to make them self look big..

    www. en . wikipedia . org/wiki/Soviet_Union

    Russians have nothing at all to be proud of Stalin the USSR and today’s Putin’s Russia are and was all totalitarian states..

    RuSSia and the Soviet Union was NO better then Hitlers Germany, Pol Potts Cambodia, Idi Amins Uganda, Francos Spain, Mussolinis Italia, Gaddafi’s Libya, Kim Jong-un North Korea and/ or Putins good friend Bashar al-Assads Syria

    Ukrainians, on the other hand have made a new beginning. They are rejecting Russian-style autocracy, reforming the economy and moving against the pervasive corruption of the old regime.

    Ukraine naturally and rightfully belongs in Europe. Putin has used every means possible, including military aggression and terrorism to damage and subordinate Ukraine.

    He will not succeed. Ukraine’s whole history revolves around the struggle for liberty and resistance to foreign oppression. Ukrainians are starkly different to Russians. They are not and have never been mentally slaves of Moscow lies, propaganda and control .

    The face of true evil Putins RuSSia and propaganda

    www. news. vice. com/video/silencing-dissent-in-russia-putins-propaganda-machine-full-length

  • Trueteller

    It’s always interesting to see how country led by KGB officers and Soviet and Communist Party officials,country which praised Stalin and Soviet Union,country with biggest number of abortions,divorsts,alcoholism,country where number of people who attend Holy Masses in churches is few time smaller than in Ukraine and Western countries,country where truth is dead is trying to present itself as bastion of Christianity and spirituality…Amazing! Country where Church Patriarch is tobbaco-alcohol multimillionaire and KGB agent and worshipper of Soviet Union!!! Evil Empire was founded personaly by Satan himself.

  • Comrades, this film is almost as useless in its propaganda value as the loathsome Krupskaya’s book, “101 Ways to Serve Boiled Beets”.

    • Trueteller

      You underestimate brains of godless Russians and Russia lovers(all kinds of leftists) previously fed by sensless communist propaganda…If you consider that Russian leadership is comprised of KGB cadres Supreme Leader Tovarish PUTIN,VLADIMIR YAKUNIN,SHOIGU,LAVROV(not
      KGB but Soviet communist official),SERGEY IVANOV,VIKTOR IVANOV,IGOR
      SECHIN,VOLODYN,DMITRIY ROGOZIN,ALEXANDER BOLTNIKOV,VLADIMIR
      KOKOLTSEV,NIKOLAI PATRUSHEV etc.,well,than nothing about KGBstan population can surprise me. Sorry for my so called English…

  • FoxSheepCreep

    This is nothing but Russian right wing paranoia remarkably similar to the racial and cultural fear spouted by America’s right wing, flag waving fascists.

    It features the oldest rule for inciting and inspiring racist and regressive lunatics:
    Make people afraid and you can control them completely.

    There are old, conservative fatcats in America making millions off this Fox News-styled BS.

    • Nicky Jones

      has anyone else noticed all the supernatural themed shows and movies on both the US and British media in the last decade or so, as well as all the nationalism?

  • Alec Ma Alec

    is this where all the paranoid people group up?

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  • Brian Hu

    One thing NATO did right in the ‘Children vs Wizards’ was that they managed to integrate muggle and wizard society seamlessly, at least in Western Society. That would be a huge achievement if it happened in the actual Potterverse.

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