The Son of the Stars Movie Review: Rare ‘80s Romanian Cartoon Gets Blu-ray Release

Thanks to Deaf Crocodile Films, U.S. viewers will finally get the chance to watch this Romanian sci-fi rarity. The film will likely come as a surprise to most, not only due to its mere existence, but to its revelation of the Romanian animation industry as a whole. And it’s not even the only toon by its directors, Calin Cazan and Mircea Toia, as they also produced the similarly-themed Delta Space Force (also available from Deaf Crocodile) a few years before this film.

The story follows a family of three astronauts returning to Earth after eight years of deep space exploration. When they receive a strange distress call from a long-missing fellow astronaut, they take a disastrous detour into an inescapable danger zone that results in the parents going missing and presumed dead. That leaves their young son, Dan, in the sole care of their ship’s sentient computer named BOB, at least until they land on a planet where Dan is raised by a group of sympathetic aliens. His 12-year unplanned stay on the planet Doreea grants him the abilities of telepathy and telekinesis, which come in handy when the now-adult hero finally discovers and faces off against the evil force that derailed his life.

As one might expect, the film utilizes limited animation, similar to the anime approach to cartooning. Many shots of otherwise still images are only “animated” via a bit of camera zoom or minor effects work. However, the human character animation is clearly the product of rotoscoping and as such is vastly more lively and realistic than the various alien critters. It’s a bit of a mismatch in styles, with the very human characters interacting with cutesy aliens that look like they escaped from juvenile Saturday morning cartoons, but the sci-fi genre helps to make it acceptable.

Working in conjunction with the Romanian National Film Archive and Romanian Film Centre, Deaf Crocodile has restored the film in 4K from the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements. Although the original colors are fairly drab and don’t appear to have been enhanced for the HDR era, the image and sound quality of the restoration are top notch with no noticeable imperfections. Audio is presented in the original Romanian only, with excellent English subs. The film is formatted in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Surprisingly, the 78-minute film sporadically fades to black, presumably indicating that it was always intended for commercial TV, with the ad breaks already in place. It’s also remarkable to learn that the film was released in the mid-’80s, as its overall aesthetic makes it feel about 15 years older, something like a cousin to Fantastic Planet with touches of Hanna-Barbera. The most pleasant surprise for me was the extensive electronic soundtrack by Stefan Elefteriu, a fantastic ride through suitably futuristic and innovative synth blips and bleeps.

The Son of the Stars is available on Blu-ray on March 28th. While the story takes some liberties with logical progression, and it’s not exactly the psychedelic midnight movie that hardcore cult film fans might expect, it is a thoroughly enjoyable glimpse into the sci-fi animation creativity bubbling behind the Iron Curtain in its final days.

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Steve Geise

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