Tsaplya i zhuravl / The Heron and the Crane’ was released in 1974, and was written by Norshteyn and Roman Kachanov, with cinematography by the director’s long-time friend Aleksandr Zhukovskiy. The story, which is based on a Russian folk tale and narrated by Innokenti Smoktunovsky, concerns the peculiar romance of two would-be lovers, Heron and Crane. Each desires to marry the other, and yet each bird’s sense of pride and self-importance continually prevents them from accepting the other’s marriage proposal. It is a delicate courtship ritual, a hopeless cause thwarted by either party’s inability to overcome their own conceit, even if the cost is their lifelong happiness. The story really does have a sense of tragedy about it: “and so it still goes on like that, back and forth…one after the other.” The Heron and the Crane are destined to remain alone for the rest of their lives, always with an unattainable happiness dancing right before their eyes. —IMDb
Yuriy Norshteyn was born in a Jewish family in the village of Andreyevka, Penza Oblast, during his parents’ World War II evacuation. He grew up in the Maryina Roshcha suburb of Moscow. After studying at an art school, Norshteyn initially found work at a furniture factory. Then he finished a two-year animation course and found employment at studio Soyuzmultfilm in 1961. The first film that he participated in as an animator was Who Said “Meow”? (1962).
After working as an animation artist in some fifty films, Norshteyn got the chance to direct his own. In 1968 he debuted with 25th October, the First Day, sharing directorial credit with Arkadiy Tyurin. The film used the artwork of 1920s-era Soviet artists Nathan Altman and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
The next film in which he had a major role was The Battle of Kerzhenets (1971), a co-production with Russian animation director Ivan Ivanov-Vano under whose direction Norshteyn had earlier worked on 1969’s Times of the Year.