Baobab Studio’s latest is coming soon. What did we think? Read our Baba Yaga VR review to find out.
Few VR filmmakers have been as consistent over the years as Baobab Studios and its collection of sweet Pixar-like shorts. But with its latest project, Baba Yaga, consistency might be the problem.
Premiering as part of this month’s Venice Film Festival, Baba Yaga ticks a lot of Baobabs’s usual boxes. It’s a star-studded fantasy adventure with lush artistic vision in which you accompany a young girl, Magda, on a perilous journey into the forests of the titular witch. It’s got a little humor and enough heart to please young audiences and fresh VR viewers alike but, for Baobab, it’s unmistakably familiar territory.
This wouldn’t be such a concern had it not been for the studio’s past effort, Bonfire, which offered a genuine evolution to its established formula with a deep emphasis on viewer interactivity. You can trace that DNA into the roots of Baba Yaga, which does make attempts to integrate those elements into a bigger, more linear narrative. But it struggles with the balance.
Fleeting glimpses of that immersive magic can be found here, including a tense standoff with man-eating vegetation, while a bedside meeting with Glenn Close’s sickly tribe chief has unnerving intimacy. But it’s implementation is sparse and often automated, with only a single outcome possible up until an ending choice.
Though the differences in that closing segment can be dramatic, you don’t feel informed – or emotionally connected – enough to make a decision with much sense of confliction. Magda, voiced with a curious (and almost unrecognizable) wisdom by Daisy Ridley, never really gets a moment to properly shine, and it’s the same for Kate Winslett in the titular role. Baga Yaga’s focus on personal storytelling is welcome, but it’s too short on viewer-directed moments to carry much heft. It wasn’t until a second viewing that I felt I had a real handle on the characters and the best outcomes for them.
Baba Yaga isn’t quite the ambitious step up I’d hoped to see from Baobab’s next project, then. This is a likable, sweet but ultimately safe adventure, highlighted by the some great VR novelties but also equally limited by them. I want to see something from this studio that feels truly dynamic — like my presence has genuine impact in the stories it creates. Baobab remains one of VR’s most promising storytellers but, four years on from its debut, I feel like I’m still waiting for it to really hit its stride.
Baba Yaga is a part of this week’s Venice VR line-up and is aiming to come to headsets later this year. For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines.