Suur Tõll: colourful, almost psychedelic animation about a mythical Estonian hero

Rein Raamat and Kulno Luht, “Suur Tõll”(1980)

In Estonian mythology Suur Tõll is a giant hero king who rules the island of Saaremaa off the coast of western Estonia in the Baltic sea. He gets the animation treatment in this 14-minute short directed by Rein Raamat and Kulno Luht and featuring artwork by Jüri Arrak. In a colourful, almost psychedelic cartoon dominated by shades of yellow, orange, dark browns and tan, and with a brassy music soundtrack to match, the great king strides about the island battling evil where he finds it. As the short progresses though, he loses his wife to a demon and then in a fight against an army of demons, the demon king beheads our hero. In a rage, Suur Tõll kills the demon king and defeats the army; he then recovers his head and goes away to die. His body turns into a stony hill and his head becomes a boulder on a plain to remind the Saaremaa inhabitants of his heroism and feats of strength and bravery.

The constant music soundtrack with its deep-voiced, almost inhuman choruses and the blaring brass trumpets gives the short an epic, almost Biblical feel. The giant, his wife and their various enemies look so monumental in their simple cut-out cardboard silhouette figures and big blocks of colour so it’s a real shock to discover that the couple is mortal after all. The animators assume that everyone watching the short knows the stories about  Suur Tõll so they blend the best-known tales about him in one film and the action proceeds silently with just the music as sonic accompaniment.

The bright hues, the almost child-like outlines of the characters and their blocky shapes with very few details of clothing and the way they stride rather than walk, fling things rather than throw or toss, and go WHACK! with their swords, scythes or spears rather than fight, together create something that is very dream-like and surreal, and fitting for an age when giant heroes really did stride across the landscape and sometimes deigned to help humans with their problems. The short is very distinctive in look and style but if viewers want to know more of Jüri Arrak’s work, they are best referred to his paintings and drawings which really are the bee’s knees.

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