The Fool Of The World And The Flying Ship

The Fool Of The World And The Flying Ship


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Like its young protagonist Pyotr (voiced by Jimmy Hibbert), The Fool Of The World And The Flying Ship is marked by a decided modesty. It was made for the small rather than the big screen, as part of PBS' Long Ago And Far Away series, with a duration falling shy of a full hour let alone of feature length. The stop-motion modeling with which it is animated was hardly voguish even in the pre-CGI days of 1990, and the sort of postmodern irony that has come to characterise most children's entertainment today is here conspicuous only by its absence.

Indeed, the quest story of The Fool Of The World And The Flying Ship is a good old-fashioned – which is to say, deeply unfashionable - morality parable, adapted by its writer John Hambley from a traditional Russian folk tale. Yet from such unassuming elements, director Francis Vose and the Cosgrove Hall team have conjured a sort of alchemical miracle – much as the Old Man (Maurice Denham) whom Pyotr meets in the woods magics up the ship of the title from mere snow, ice and feathers.

Copy picture

Nikolai (Robin Bailey), the vain and effete Tsar of Russia, issues a proclamation offering the hand of his daughter Princess Alexeya (Barbara Wilshere) in marriage to anyone who can present him with a flying ship. After feckless brothers Sergei (Alan Rothwell) and Boris (Jimmy Hibbert) propose to procure such a paradoxical vessel, and fail to return after making off with the family savings, their younger sibling Pyotr - a kindly, industrious woodcutter whose innocence sees him branded a fool - heads off after them into the woods.

After agreeing to share his meagre rations with an elderly stranger, Pyotr awakens in a magical boat that flies him to the Tsar's winter palace, picking up a motley crew of fellow travellers along the way, each with their own special talents. Horrified to see that Pyotr is a 'peasant', the Tsar and his Chamberlain (John Woodvine) set the woodcutter a series of impossible tasks, which he overcomes one by one with the help of his new friends, all the while winning the heart of the Princess.

Coming from the makers of TV's The Wind In The Willows (1983), this Emmy-winning fable of piety rewarded makes a virtue of its own simplicity. Here magic, wizardry and supernatural powers are embodied in the most ordinary - and shabby - of feudal folk, made of exactly the same pliable stuff as the decadent Tsar and his Court, while the real source of Pyotr's eventual triumph is as much his own generosity, loyalty and humility as the peculiar skills of his new friends.

The animation is charming, the voice work at times slyly hilarious (including turns from Martin Jarvis and Miriam Margolyes), but, most of all, the story, for all its apparent plainness and purity, resonates with social, political and moral depths, as Pyotr's essential goodness creates its own quiet revolution.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2010
Share this with others on...
The Fool Of The World And The Flying Ship packshot
Russian fairytale about a woodcutter who wins the heart of a princess.
Amazon link

Director: Francis Vose

Writer: John Hambley

Starring: Robin Bailey, Maurice Denham, Jimmy Hibbert, Martin Jarvis, Edward Kelsey, Miriam Margolyes, Alan Rothwell, David Suchet, Barbara Wilshere, John Woodvine

Year: 1990

Runtime: 54 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest