When a tribe of vicious hyenas invade a peaceful peasant village, ten year old Savva (voiced by Milla Jovovich) reluctantly leaves his beloved mother and goes on the run. In the woods he meets Angee (Will Chase), a brave, kind yet mysterious white wolf. He tells Savva there is a magician out there that can grant their fondest wishes. So Savva journeys with Angee in the hope the magician can help find a warrior great enough to save his village. Along the way they meet a Puffy (Sharon Stone (!)), a wacky little pink creature as well as Semi-Baron Fafl (Geoffrey Cantor), an outrageously accented French aristocrat whose goofy, big-eared, buck-toothed face is the result of a witch's curse, and Nanty (Madeleine Rose-Yen), magic-wielding daughter of a tribal Shaman (Jim Cummings). Each one hopes to have their wish granted. But along the way the companions uncover startling secrets and tangle with an evil monkey army led by the terrible three-headed ape queen Mama Zho Zi (Whoopi Goldberg).
Russian singer-songwriter and pop producer Maksim Fadeev made his directorial debut with this computer animated fantasy adapted from a children's book he wrote himself with a protagonist modelled after his own son. In Russia and Poland Savva, Serdtse voina (Savva, Heart of a Warrior) was a respectable hit. Its theme song, composed by Fadeev of course, also reached the top ten of Russia's iTunes. Throughout the rest of the world the film was released as a direct-to-DVD and video-on-demand title, rechristened A Warrior's Tail, with its original Russian celebrity voice cast replaced with Hollywood talent. Milla Jovovich makes a surprisingly convincing ten year old boy and you would be hard-pressed to recognize Sharon Stone from her squeaky performance as the annoying Puffy. Amidst a bizarre mishmash of accents the English dub also delivers such eccentricities as Joe Pesci as a wisecracking, Brooklyn-ese mosquito permanently perched on Fafl's shoulder. He turns out to be crucial to the plot!
Idiosyncrasies in colour, backgrounds and design kick this up a notch above much DTV animated junk but only just. Fadeev's fairytale distills the writings of Joseph W. Campbell into a familiar self-empowerment message. In its brighter moments A Warrior's Tail achieves a certain poetry and philosophical charm, mostly via the relationship between Savva and Angee which is well drawn, but such moments are few. The script, co-written by Fadeev with Aleksandr Chistyakov and Hollywood screenwriter Gregory Poirier (who co-wrote The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)) is often rather clunky, never more so than when it tries to be funny. While Fadeev handles the action with a fairly solid grasp of the mechanics of suspense and drama, the musical sequences fall flat and the comedy feels desperate.
Elements from traditional Russian folklore, such as their romantic fascination with wolves and a cameo from the victorious child heroine from the fairytale 'Baba Yaga' (see also Aleksander Row's live-action classic Golden Horns (1972)) are intriguing but the plot also borrows extensively from other sources. These include The Wizard of Oz (travelling companions in search of a magical figure to cure their individual flaws), The Jungle Book (a child mentored by wolves, a lost city inhabited by evil monkeys including an ape monarch bent on conquest), Return of the Jedi (an armoured villain unmasked as the father of a key character, primitives that mistake a comedy sidekick for a god) and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (the climactic battle between three armies). The script even steals a certain famous line from The Terminator (1984) and has the gall to make a dig at it. While Maksim Fadeev imbues his fantasy world with a certain off-kilter charm that leaves A Warrior's Tail curiously watchable, the film stumbles on account of an inconsistent story-structure that yields too many awkward moments.