Belka, the amazing flying dog, is unexpectedly hurtled into the streets of Moscow when the rocket she is in as part of her circus routine malfunctions. She is literally hurled into the life of the streetwise Strelka and her irredeemable rat friend Lyonya. The new trio is soon chased by a terrifying Bulldog and his ingratiating offsider, Pug. After a narrow escape they are then pursued by a mysterious black car before being finally captured. Belka, Strelka and Lyonya awake to find themselves part of the Russian space program. A program that will see them as the first canine cosmonauts to be launched into space, that’s if Bulldog and Pug don’t beat them to it.

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A heady mix of fantasy animal world and idealised Socialist triumph.

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL: Well, Michael Hutchence this ain’t. I’m never quite sure about subtitled animation for kids. But like all films, it is best to consider Belka & Strelka: Space Dogs on its own terms.

A new gift from the U.S.S.R to the American President is a cute but precocious puppy named Pushok that is an instant celebrity with all the other animals accumulated at the White House (remember on its own terms). Asserting his importance as the son of the most famous dog in the world, Pushok narrates to the united assembly of pets the saga of his comrades Belka and Strelka.

Belka is a sophisticated dog who is the star of a Moscow Circus. When Belka gets lost and only has Veniamin, a comic relief rat with a false tooth for company, they are rescued by streetwise Strelka, one tough mutt. I jumped the gun here thinking that all of this was going to be a Russian update of Lady and the Tramp. However, both Belka and Strelka are female dogs (it’s okay, I wasn’t going to say bitches). Living in the heart of Communist Russia (literally; they take up residency in Vera Mukhina’s famed Worker and Female Peasant statue), the canines are the standard opposites-complement-each-other movie duo. Belka’s refined but practical 'can do’ approach to life acts as a counterbalance to Strelka’s scrappy 'life’s an eternal struggle and until you fulfil your dreams’ demeanour.

Number one on Strelka’s dream list is to fulfil the pride she feels that her father lives amongst the stars – which Belka just thinks is ridiculous. Older viewers will sense where this is leading (and the subtitle is a giveaway), but the dogs’ more immediate problem is how to avoid Moscow’s dog catcher. Both dogs lead the sinister figure on a merry chase around the streets of Moscow, but inevitably the pair end up in a mysterious government compound. But rather than a realisation of their deathly fears, the compound is a place where the dogs are put through some extreme aeronautical paces, as a prelude to the next step of their adventure.

The animation is fluid in a Disney-fied way and apart from the gender confusion (mine, not theirs) about the protagonists, the characters are quite distinctive. Set in the late 1950s, the animation makes good use of landmark Moscow buildings of the era and Communist trademarks that makes the blend of fantasy animal world and idealised Socialist triumph a heady mix. Made – or at least adapted for 3D presentation – the film doesn’t overplay the technique of throwing things at the screen, but allows the natural dynamics of chase scenes to set up the off the screen style thrills.

Kids and adults alike will get a kick out of the archive footage that runs alongside the closing credits which shows some of the actual dogs launched into the solar system as part of Russia’s then on-going space race with the United States.